Kabuki Part 2: The performance at the TD Gallery, Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge), to September 12. 416-393-7079. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Kabuki theatre grew up as the more raucous sibling of classical Japanese noh drama. Originating in Kyoto's traditional geisha district, kabuki aimed to entertain and electrify. Putting actors on runways in the middle of the audience, it used dazzling costumes, makeup and a broad array of novel stage effects and pyrotechnics.
The plays developed lusty storylines of honour and vengeance populated by leering villains, saintly warrior heroes and comic buffoons worthy of Tarantino.
The world of 19th-century kabuki theatre was documented by skilled Japanese woodblock masters, and 34 of their prints can now be seen at the Toronto Reference Library.
The show includes notable Japanese woodblock artists Utagawa Kunisada , Ando Hiroshige and Sadafusa and offers a lively look at the culture of kabuki, with views of performances, the theatre district, playbills and kabuki-inspired illustrations.
It also opens a window on the historically pivotal Meiji era, when Japan opened itself to the West after Commodore Perry's visit in 1854.
Every colour is printed separately in Japanese woodblock printing, and the library has added some displays to help unravel this mind-boggling process. It's another example of how Japanese artists use meticulous, patient discipline to portray of subjects that are entirely spontaneous and alive.
Even after 200 years, you can still feel the buzz from the audiences and actors in these prints.