This is the worst of the off-topics of a Noh specialist, but… as I am preparing a Kabuki class for my 2nd year drama school students, I was browsing YouTube searching for interesting videos that might show the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of a Kabuki production. I bumped into the video below, a Kirin Beer commercial featuring Ichikawa Danjuro XII (thank you Matt for the identification) posing as Kamakura Gongoro from the play Shibaraku. So far nothing special – Kabuki actors often feature commercials for famous brands of tea, beer, etc. What caught my attention, though, comes towards the end of the commercial, when Danjuro is portrayed as having a refreshing beer after the performance, surrounded by a group of foreigners in tuxedos, who listen in amusement to his stage tales.
It is not uncommon to see foreigners featuring Japanese commercials, sometimes playing comic character, most often portraying cast-types of various Western ethnicities (a while ago I saw this ‘Italian’ whose nose really pierced the screen). However, this scene in the Kirin commercial somehow reminded me of the imagery of the ‘honourable guests’, Western visitors – diplomats and academics – that during the Meiji period attended Noh performances, and of whom the Noh establishment took much pride. In those days, Kabuki was considered popular and vulgar, hence unsuitable to entertain the high-ranking foreign guests. Of course, things have now changed, and despite a certain look of disdain from the world of Noh, Kabuki is by all means considered one of the treasure of Japanese traditional culture, and is often promoted internationally. Mukashi mo ima mo, the Japanese tradition takes advantage of the foreign eye on it in order to improve its self-image, and this seems to have been quite clear to the writer of the Kirin commercial, who carefully devised the script so that Danjuro would be the star not only of an indigenous product, but of an art of international value. And so is Kirin.