enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館

Chapter 3: The Intersection of Shimpa and Film(新派展)

Finding Avant-gardness in Shimpa Dramas

Chapter 3: The Intersection of Shimpa and Film

Around the time shinengeki started to flourish, cinema, a new medium, was imported to Japan. Gradually, the production of Japanese films increased, with shimpa and those associated with the stage playing a major role. They included shimpa actors who appeared in Japan’s first narrative films and who went on to appear in many others. By the end of the Meiji era, seasoned actors, such as Fujisawa Asajiro and Shizuma Kojiro from Kawakami Otojiro’s troupe, and the onnagata Kinoshita Kichinosuke from the Seibidan Troupe (成美団), appeared in numerous movies. Early Japanese movies were strongly influenced by the traditions and customs of the stage. They were roughly divided into kyugeki eiga (旧劇映画; old theatrical movies), which depicted the Edo era, and shimpa eiga (新派映画; shimpa movies), which depicted the Meiji and Taisho eras. Women’s roles were performed by onnagata, and star onnagata such as Tachibana Teijiro and Kinugasa Teinosuke became popular.

In terms of the relationship between stage and film, we should not forget the rensageki (連鎖劇; combinations of stage and screen) popularity during the middle of the Taisho period, as shimpa was increasingly being considered to be fading out. Rensageki combined live performance and film alternately and saw a considerable boom thanks to performers such as Yamazaki Chonosuke in the Kansai region and Inoue Masao in the Kanto region.

At the end of the Taisho period, there was a growing movement calling for a reformation of conventional Japanese movies, and an attempt to produce eigageki (映画劇; cinematic theatre) using actual female actresses (instead of onnagata) and visual techniques similar to Western films. In the early days of the Shochiku Kamata studio, shimpa works were produced in this eigageki style, and there was a gradual reinterpretation of Taisho and Showa modernism-based shimpa higeki (新派悲劇; shimpa tragedy), which originated in the Meiji period. With the switch to talkies in the early Showa period, stage actors who said their lines out loud attracted attention, and Mizutani Yaeko I starred in several early talkie movies. The intersection between shimpa and film still continues, and shimpa works mirror the society and era in which they were made.