enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館

Chapter 2: Amidst a Diverse World of Theatre(新派展)

Finding Avant-gardness in Shimpa Dramas  

Chapter 2: Amidst a Diverse World of Theatre

During the late Meiji era, when Tsubouchi Shoyo, Shimamura Hogetsu, and others founded the Bungei Kyokai (文芸協会; Literary Arts Society), and Osanai Kaoru and Ichikawa Sadanji created the Jiyu Gekijyo (自由劇場; Free Theatre), the theatre world found itself in a season steeped in new ways of doing things. In the meantime, however, shimpa’s popularity also made it the target of criticism, and the tide began to recede. At the beginning of the Taisho period, first-generation shimpa actors, such as Akizuki Katsura, Takada Minoru, and Fujisawa Asajiro, were dying out.

As the decline of shimpa became imminent, “three leaders”, Ii Yoho, Kitamura Rokuro I, Kawai Takeo, and the young Hanayagi Shotaro emerged. Izumi Kyoka himself dramatised Nihombashi (「日本橋」), and Mayama Seika, who became the shimpa company playwright, adapted Yanagawa Shunyo’s serialised novel Nasanu Naka (「生さぬ仲」; No Blood Relation), amongst other popular new works. Other movements include the unique experimental path charted by second-generation shimpa writer Inoue Masao.

In the early Showa era, shimpa reached a major turning point. Ii Yoho, who had been a star since the Meiji period, passed away, and a new epoch began with the arrival of Mizutani Yaeko I.

Mizutani Yaeko I, who began her career as a shingeki actress at Matsui Sumako’s Geijutsuza (芸術座; Art Theatre) eventually formed the Dainiji Geijutsuza (第二次芸術座; Art Theatre II). In Showa 3 (1928), the company signed an exclusive contract with the production company Shochiku (松竹) and shared the stage with shimpa actors. Yaeko, who was strongly oriented towards contemporary drama, picked up new writers such as Kishida Kunio and gained popularity in roles with contemporary appeal, such as playing “modern girls”.

Shimpa in the early Showa era was truly diverse. It combined a wide variety of programs into a single line-up, including new and old works, dramatised novels, literature and period plays, contemporary plays, translations, and adaptations. This multifaceted nature of the works must have been the appeal of shimpa. The gorgeous modernist posters of that times are also impressive. Shimpa was in full bloom, fostered by a rich urban culture.