Toward a New Alchemy of Gender, Sex, and Sexuality

Fantastic Surrogation and Physical Transformation:Performing the Synchronicity of Onnagata
  • Katherine Mezur


Within kabuki, the art of the onnagata is striking for its breathtaking, stylized beauty: its deeply felt artificiality. What are the methods that produce this alchemy of female-likeness? How do they transform their male bodies beneath? What physical acts subtly heighten their erotic sensual allure? How do they control and painstakingly reshape their bodies? How do eighty-year-old onnagata perform musume roles with the fragrance of youth? How do onnagata maintain their sensual beauty in scenes of torture? What are the implications of stylized suffering and beautiful victim roles? When transforming from princess roles to fox-spirit roles, or from seductive courtesan roles to possessed spirit roles, what happens in that passing from one role to the “other”? How do they play with multiple desires and tantalize spectatorial imagination with their gender ambiguity? What is disquieting about their seductive yūjo roles of massive, god-like, jinkō no bi (artificial beauty)?1 How do onnagata make their deep artificiality breathe? How do flesh and artifice come together in what Hirosue Tamotsu refers to as the onnagata’s “double fiction,” with its “residue of unearthly shadows?”2


Gender Role Role Type Gender Performance Aesthetic Concept Aesthetic Principle 
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  1. 3.
    Laurence R. Kominz, The Stars Who Created Kabuki:Their Lives, Loves and Legac (Tokyo:Kodansha, 1997) 257.Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Terayama Shuji, “Onnagata no Kebukasa ni tsuite,” “Kabuki:Barokisumu no Hikari to Kage,” Kokubungaku June special edition, 20.8 (1975):100.Google Scholar
  3. 13.
    Gunji Masakatsu and Nakamura Utaemon, “Taidan:Kabuki to Gei no aida,” “Kabuki:Barokisumu no Hikari to Kage,” Kokubungaku June special edition, 20.8 (1975):20.Google Scholar

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© Katherine Mezur 2005

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  • Katherine Mezur

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