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Shingeki (新劇, literally "New drama") was the leading form of modern theater in Japan in the twentieth century. It was the effort to introduce Western-style realist theatre to Japan, first by presenting the works of Western writers such as Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, Maxim Gorky, and Eugene O'Neill, but then by producing Japanese works. Performances reflected the styles of Russian proscenium theatre, and some of the elements included realistic/foreign costumes, the use of actresses over onnagata, self-contained plots, and, when transferred to film, close-ups.


Shingeki developed at the beginning of the twentieth century following shinpa,[1] another attempt to modernize theatrical performance after kabuki. The central groups in the early years were the Literary Arts Society of Tsubouchi Shoyo (started in 1906) and the Free Theatre of Kaoru Osanai (started in 1909).[1][2][3] Hogetsu Shimamura was also important in the development of shingeki.[4] The Tsukiji Shogekijo, co-founded by Osanai and Yoshi Hijikata in 1924, was the most important prewar group, coming under the influence of Konstantin Stanislavski and left-wing politics.[1][2] Important playwrights at the time included Kunio Kishida, Tanaka Chikao, and Tomoyoshi Murayama.[2] Because of its politics, however, shingeki suffered from government repression during World War II.[5] After the war, three troupes dominated the scene: the Haiyu-za, led by Koreya Senda; the Bungaku-za, with Haruko Sugimura; and Gekidan Mingei, with Osamu Takizawa and Jukichi Uno.[2][1] Major literary figures such as Yukio Mishima and Kobo Abe wrote works for these troupes.[5] These troupes are still popular today, but the 1950s were their heyday, since shingeki at that time became the theatrical orthodoxy, the dominant form that young playwrights reacted against in the 1960s.[1]

Influence on cinema[edit]

Shingeki was an important influence on cinema, first during the Pure Film Movement of the 1910s, when intellectual reformers attempted to modernize Japanese film. Shingeki directors such as Eizō Tanaka produced some of the first reformist films at Nikkatsu like Ikeru shikabane (1917) and shingeki actors like Minoru Murata and Iyokichi Kondō collaborated with Norimasa Kaeriyama to make groundbreaking works like The Glow of Live (Sei no kagayaki, 1918).[6] Kaoru Osanai himself was placed in charge of Shochiku's training school and produced Souls on the Road in 1921, a work that has been called "the first landmark film in Japanese history".[7] In later decades, shingeki provided the cinema both a training ground for new actors, as well as a supply of skilled performers trained in realistic acting.


  1. ^ a b c d e Wetmore, Kevin (2015). "Shingeki". In Simon Williams. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Stage Actors and Acting. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521769549. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Senda, Akihiko (2000). "Japan". In Rubin, Don. The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre: Asia/Pacific. Routledge. pp. 222–239. ISBN 041505933X.
  3. ^ "Osanai, Kaoru - Portraits of Modern Japanese Historical Figures". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  4. ^ "Shimamura, Hogetsu - Portraits of Modern Japanese Historical Figures". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  5. ^ a b Looser, Tom (2002). "Theatre, contemporary". In Buckley, Sandra. Encyclopedia of contemporary Japanese culture. Routledge. pp. 522–525.
  6. ^ Gerow, Aaron (2010). Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895-1925. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520254565.
  7. ^ Mark Cousins (4 October 2006). The Story of Film. Da Capo Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-56025-933-6. Retrieved 21 March 2015.