The Utagawa School and Kabuki Theater
"Kabuki made Toyokuni, and Toyokuni Made Kabuki"
- scholar Iijima Kyoshin
Kabuki made Toyokuni:
The Utagawa school of Ukiyo-e artists, who overlapped
the flourishing of the Edo period kabuki, produced diverse types of actor prints to serve as advertisements and "movie star
photographs" of their day. The Ukiyo-e artists who were adept at creating actor prints, namely Toyokuni, Kunimasa, and Kunisada,
were all theater aficionados, and all had documented social interactions with the actors. Each was closely connected to the
theatrical world prior to becoming an artist.
Toyokuni made kabuki:
Ukiyo-e prints were incorporated into kabuki acting.
There is an acting technique in kabuki known as “emen no mie” (“picture mie”)
The mie is a frozen pose and facial expression used to heighten the drama during a climactic moment in a play. In the “picture
mie” technique, during an important scene, an actor will assume a fixed pose surrounded by additional actors arranged
in such a way to create the equivalent of a “tableaux vivant,” thereby imitating a well-known painting or print
In many cases these mie occur in historical dramas
(jidaimono) with classical themes and often in the final curtain scene when a large number of actors
are posed on the stage. In kabuki, a dramatic form that values the stylized, it was relatively easy to arrange the stage in
such a way that it resembled a woodblock print, and clearly many prints inspired such staging.When an actor said about a print, “I would like to try
that on stage,” there was no higher praise for an Ukiyo-e artist.