How Does the Billy-Goat Produce Milk? Sergei Eisenstein’s Disintegration and Reconstitution of Kabuki Theatre

  • Min Tian
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


Sergei Eisenstein’s interpretation of Kabuki theatre has gone fundamentally unquestioned and unchallenged for several decades. But what was exactly in Kabuki theatre—essentially the product of an alien and distant feudal society—that fed and stimulated the intellectual questions of Eisenstein, a twentieth-century Soviet avant-garde theatre and film director? How exactly did Eisenstein find in this centuries-old art form “an unexpected juncture” with the modernity of the sound film, or more precisely, his theory of montage? By a close examination of Eisenstein’s interpretation of Kabuki theatre, this chapter demonstrates that Eisenstein displaced and disintegrated the principles and techniques of Kabuki theatre from its historical and aesthetic contexts and appropriated and reconstituted them into his theoretical discourse. Thus, the “milk” Eisenstein extracted and reformulated from Kabuki theatre was no longer organically Japanese; it was artificially Eisensteinian, as the “goat” had been “transgendered,” “genetically” altered, and historically and aesthetically displaced.


  1. Banu, Georges. 1978. Eisenstein, le Japon et quelques techniques du montage. In Collage et montage au théâtre et dans les autres arts durant les années vingt, edited by D. Bablet, 135–44. Lausanne: La Cité.Google Scholar
  2. Bordwell, David. 1974. Eisenstein’s Epistemological Shift. Screen 15 (4): 32–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. ———. 2005. The Cinema of Eisenstein. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Brandon, James R. 1982. The Theft of Chūshingura: Or The Great Kabuki Caper. In Chūshingura: Studies in Kabuki and the Puppet Theater, ed. James R. Brandon, 111–146. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  5. Eagle, Herbert. 1987. Introduction. In Sergei Eisenstein, Nonindifferent Nature, trans. Herbert Marshall, vii–xxi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Eisenstein, Sergei. 1928. Nezhdannyy styk (The Unexpected Juncture). Zhizn’ iskusstva (The Life of Art) 34 (Aug. 19): 6–9.Google Scholar
  7. ———. 1930a. The Cinematographic Principle and Japanese Culture. Transition (Paris) 19–20 (June): 90–103.Google Scholar
  8. ———. 1930b. Le principe cinématographique et la civilisation japonaise. Cahiers d’Art 5 (1–2): 31–94.Google Scholar
  9. ———. 1949a. The Unexpected (1928). In Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda, 18–27. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.Google Scholar
  10. ———. 1949b. The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram (1929). In Eisenstein, Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, 28–44.Google Scholar
  11. ———. 1949c. The Filmic Fourth Dimension (1929). In Eisenstein, Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, 64–71.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 1963. Hinter der Leinwand. In Nō—vom Genius Japans: Ezra Pound, Ernest Fenollosa, Serge Eisenstein, edited by Eva Hesse, 264–82. Zürich: Arche.Google Scholar
  13. ———. 1964. Za kadrom (1929). In Sergei Eisenstein, Izbrannye proizvedenia (Selected Works), vol. 2, 283–296. Moscow: Iskusstvo.Google Scholar
  14. ———. 1968. The Embodiment of a Myth. In Sergei Eisenstein, Film Essays, ed. Jay Leyda, 84–91. London: Dennis Dobson.Google Scholar
  15. ———. 1969. Hors cadre. Cahiers du cinéma 215 (Sept.): 21–28.Google Scholar
  16. ———. 1975. Das Prinzip einer Filmkunst jenseits der Einstellung. In S. M. Eisenstein, Schriften, edited and translated by Hans-Joachim Schlegel, vol. 3, 225–241. München: Carl Hanser.Google Scholar
  17. ———. 1987. Nonindifferent Nature. Translated by Herbert Marshall. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. ———. 1988a. An Unexpected Juncture (1928). In S. M. Eisenstein, Writings, 1922–34, vol. 1 of Selected Works, ed. and trans. Richard Taylor, 115–122. London: BFI Publishing.Google Scholar
  19. ———. 1988b. The GTK Teaching and Research Workshop (A Conversation with the Leader of the Workshop, S. M. Eisenstein) (1928). In Eisenstein, Writings, 1922–34, 127–130. Originally published in Sovetskii zkran (Soviet Screen), 48 (November 27, 1928): 4.Google Scholar
  20. ———. 1988c. Statement on Sound (1928). In Eisenstein, Writings, 1922–34, 113–114.Google Scholar
  21. ———. 1988d. Beyond the Shot (1929). In Eisenstein, Writings, 1922–34, 138–150.Google Scholar
  22. ———. 1991. Vertical Montage (1940). In S. M. Eisenstein, Towards a Theory of Montage, vol. 2 of Selected Works, eds. Michael Glenny and Richard Taylor and trans. Michael Glenny, 327–399. London: BFI Publishing.Google Scholar
  23. ———. 1995. Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein, vol. 4 of Selected Works. Edited by Richard Taylor and translated by William Powell. London: BFI Publishing.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 1996a. Lecture on Biomechanics, March 28, 1935. In Alma Law and Mel Gordon, Meyerhold, Eisenstein and Biomechanics: Actor Training in Revolutionary Russia, 204–223. Jefferson: McFarland and Company.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 1996b. On Recoil Movement. In Law and Gordon, Meyerhold, Eisenstein and Biomechanics: Actor Training in Revolutionary Russia, 192–204.Google Scholar
  26. ———. 2002a. Metod, vol. 1, Grundproblem. Edited by N. I. Kleiman. Moscow: Muzei Kino/Eizenshtein-Tsentr.Google Scholar
  27. ———. 2002b. Metod, vol. 2, Tainy masterov.Google Scholar
  28. ———. 2008. Metod, in 4 vols. Edited by Oksana Bulgakowa. Berlin: PotemkinPress.Google Scholar
  29. Ernst, Earle. 1974. The Kabuki Theatre. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii.Google Scholar
  30. Foxwell, Chelsea. 2004. The Double Identity of Chūshingura: Theater and History in Nineteenth-Century Prints. Impressions 26: 23–43.Google Scholar
  31. Iampolski, Mikhail. 1999. Theory as Quotation. October 88: 51–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ichikawa, Sadanji. 1936. Sadanji geidan (Sadanji on his art). Tokyo: Nankōsha.Google Scholar
  33. Kishi, Fumikazu. 1994. Edo no enkinhō: ukie no shikaku (Perspective in the Edo Period: Vision of Uki-e). Tokyo: Keisō Shobō.Google Scholar
  34. Kleberg, Lars, ed. 1992. Zhivye impulsy iskusstva (Live impulses of art). Iskusstvo kino (Cinema art) 1: 132–139.Google Scholar
  35. Kleiman, Naum. 2005. Giaza Kawarazaki (The Eyes of Kawarazaki). Kinovedcheskie zapiski (Notes on Cinema Studies) 75: 62–77.Google Scholar
  36. Kobayashi-Sato, Yoriko. 2010. An Assimilation between Two Different Cultures: Japan and the West during the Edo Period. In Artistic and Cultural Exchanges between Europe and Asia, 1400-1900: Rethinking Markets, Workshops and Collections, ed. Michael North, 163–186. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  37. Kobayashi-Sato, Yoriko, and Mia M. Mochizuki. 2012. Perspective and Its Discontents or St. Lucy’s Eyes. In Seeing Across Cultures in the Early Modern World, eds. Dana Leibsohn and Jeanette Favrot Peterson, 23–48. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  38. Komiya, Toyotaka. comp. and ed. 1956. Japanese Music and Drama in the Meiji Era. Translated and adapted by Edward G. Seidensticker and Donald Keene. Tokyo: Ōbunsha.Google Scholar
  39. Leiter, Samuel L. 1997. New Kabuki Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki Jiten. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  40. Levine, Norma. 1969. The Influence of the Kabuki Theater on the Films of Eisenstein. Modern Drama 12 (1): 18–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Malm, William P. 1973. Nagauta: The Heart of Kabuki Music. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  42. ———. 1978. Music in the Kabuki Theater. In James R. Brandon, William P. Malm, and Donald H. Shively, Studies in Kabuki: Its Acting, Music, and Historical Context, 133–175. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.Google Scholar
  43. Matsushima, Shisho, et al., eds. 1994. Grand Kabuki: Overseas Tours 1928–1993. Tokyo: Shochiku.Google Scholar
  44. Motofuji, Francis Toshiyuki. 1964. A Study of Narukami: An Eighteenth-Century Kabuki Play. PhD diss., Stanford University.Google Scholar
  45. Odin, Steve. 1989. The Influence of Traditional Japanese Aesthetics on the Film Theory of Sergei Eisenstein. Journal of Aesthetic Education 23 (2): 69–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ōkuma, Toshio. ed. 1929. Ichikawa Sadanji kabuki kikō (Records of the tour of Ichikawa Sadanji’s Kabuki troupe). Tokyo: Heibonsha.Google Scholar
  47. Ortolani, Benito. 1990. The Japanese Theatre from Shamanistic Ritual to Contemporary Pluralism. Leiden: E. J. Brill.Google Scholar
  48. Screech, Timon. 1994. The Meaning of Western Perspective in Edo Popular Culture. Archives of Asian Art 47: 58–69.Google Scholar
  49. Tian, Min. 2000. Male Dan: The Paradox of Sex, Acting, and Perception of Female Impersonation in Traditional Chinese Theatre. Asian Theatre Journal 17 (1): 78–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. ———. ed. 2010. An Evening for the Final Conclusion of the Visit of Mei Lan-fang’s Theatre in the USSR, April 14, 1935. In China’s Greatest Operatic Male Actor of Female Roles: Documenting the Life and Art of Mei Lanfang, 1894–1961, 165–182. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press.Google Scholar
  51. ———. 2012. Mei Lanfang and the Twentieth-Century International Stage: Chinese Theatre Placed and Displaced. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  52. Van Wert, William F. 1978. Eisenstein and Kabuki. Criticism 20 (4): 403–420.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Min Tian
    • 1
  1. 1.University of IowaIowa CityUSA

Personalised recommendations