KABUKI ABC (71) / Iwaimaku curtain: Artist Yayoi Kusama’s unique design adds color to kabuki stages

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yayoi Kusama-designed iwaimaku curtain can be seen in the February Grand Kabuki performances held at the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo’s Higashiginza district.

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterA show to commemorate the simultaneous name successions of three generations — father, son and grandson — of the Matsumoto Koshiro family, is currently on a two-month run at the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo’s Higashiginza district.

In the February Grand Kabuki performance, which began on Feb. 1 and runs until Feb. 25, audiences can enjoy not only performances of kabuki actors but also the iwaimaku curtain designed by Yayoi Kusama, the 88-year-old avant-garde artist who is a recipient of the Order of Culture.

Stage curtains at kabuki plays include one that is raised and lowered, called a doncho, which is common in many conventional theaters. However, most plays in traditional kabuki styles called “Gidayu-kyogen” and “Matsubamemono” use a horizontally moving curtain called a hikimaku, which is operated by stagehands who pull it from side to side.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The National Theater’s joshikimaku curtain is pulled by stagehands.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The Kabukiza theater’s joshikimaku curtain

Theaters specializing in kabuki plays are also equipped with a horizontally moving joshikimaku curtain. Kabukiza’s joshikimaku curtain has a tricolor striped pattern of persimmon, navy blue and green. The joshikimaku curtain at the National Theatre in the Hanzomon district of Tokyo has the same colors in a subtly different order: persimmon, green and navy blue.

In shows to commemorate name successions of actors like the latest one, a special iwaimaku curtain is used. The curtains are not commissioned by theaters, but are presented by supporters’ associations of relevant actors or their fans.

For the show performed in January, Mitsui Fudosan Co., which has close ties with the actor newly assuming the name of Matsumoto Hakuo, as he appeared in a TV commercial for the company, presented an iwaimaku curtain. The curtain has the respective family crests of the three actors — Hakuo, Koshiro and Ichikawa Somegoro — and the surface is decorated with pine trees, which appear in the background of the “Kanjincho” play, which the family is famous for performing.

The iwaimaku curtain designed by Kusama for the February show has a unique design. On a black background, three colorful, squarish, avant-garde paintings are drawn in a row — it does not have the respective family crests of the three actors, or even their names.

The announced theme of the curtain is: “Let’s talk about life with love.” The curtain, which was presented by a fan who knows Kusama, uses the three paintings she created in 2017 in a series of large paintings by titled “My Eternal Soul.” She has been working on the series since 2009.

The globally renowned artist, who is still actively creating works, issued a message for the new Koshiro: “People around the world are impressed by your wonderful name succession. I look forward to your future development.” In response, the new Koshiro said, “[The design] feels quite fresh — I want to get energy from her work.”

The vast curtain measures 7.1 meters in height and 30.3 meters in width. As it was made for the Kabukiza’s stage, which is the largest of its kind in the country, audiences can only see the curtain during the performances in February.

— Morishige covers traditional Japanese performing arts.

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