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The Kabuki way of death

03 March 2004

 

kabuki image




In the heyday of Japanese Kabuki theater, upon the death of popular actors, memorial or commemorative prints (shini-e, literally, “death prints”) were issued for fans to buy as mementos. In its exhibit “Actors in Death: Commemorative Prints From the World of Kabuki,” the Townsend Center showcases woodblock memorial prints, dating back to the later 18th through early 20th centuries, from the collection of Stanford Professor Albert Dien.

Published commercially and hawked on the streets, the items in Dien’s collection offer a trove of information about Kabuki theater, the actors’ lives, and beliefs and practices related to death in Japan. These express both the sadness of human existence as man faces death and the vitality and excitement of Kabuki theater itself.

The exhibit is on view in 220 Stephens Hall through Monday, March 19.