mie


   The focus of attention in kabuki theater is the actor's skill which displays itself in a large stock of formalized "movements" or "conventions" (kata: "form," "pattern," "model"); the third character in the kanji for kabuki is, after all, "actor." Kabuki as an actor's theater is a theater of gesture; all kabuki acting is "patterned acting." Each gesture, whether in movement, dancing, speech, or music, is highly formal and traditional. These gestures embody most of the dramatic and cultural meaning of the play, and though they are highly formalized and take great skill, their subject matter is almost always human passion and the often fierce conflict between the inner passions and outer obligations and decorum. The most dramatic, crowd-pleasing and universal of the movement kata is the mie. In mie , the actor, in an emotional high point of the play, winds up with a couple movements and freezes in a certain position for a length of time, often for a very long time. He distorts his face and may even cross his eyes, and holds this dramatic pose while the tsuke player slowly pounds out three beats (called battari). This is the pose that wood-block prints (ukiyo-e ) of famous actors most frequently portray, and mie represents that moment in the play in which the characters inner passion, anger, despair, or madness is about to break through the surface. For Tokugawa Japan was a culture of rigid formality, tight decorum, and strict codes of ethical behavior. The mie pose represents that point where the conflict between inner passions and outward behavior can no longer be maintained and the character is about to explode with passion, anger, madness, or violence. This occurs several times in the course of a kabuki play, and is most dramatic when several or all the characters on stage perform a group mie simultaneously.   Of all the kata comprising the performance traditions of kabuki, mie is the most ubiquitous in other modern Japanese performance traditions, such as film and television.