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This book is a feminist reading of the history of gender performance and construction of the female role players, onnagata, of the Kabuki theater. It is not limited to a "theater arts" focus, rather it is a mapping and close analysis of transformative genders through several historical periods in Japan (the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries). In particular, the work focuses on undoing of binary genders, the sensual ambiguity of boy-ness, youth, and female-likeness and the cultural development of the aesthetics of eroticism, nostalgia, and cruelty based in female-like transformative gender acts. The work is also a visual cultures study as it draws not only on literary sources but also prints, photographs, film, and video documentation.
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"Mezur s Beautiful Boys is a useful reprise of English-language scholarship on the traditional Japanese female impersonator, but something new as well: a fresh look at the Kabuki theater s onnagata through the insights granted us by feminist, gender and performance theories over the past thirty years. Written in clear, jargon-free prose, Beautiful Boys shows us that rather than distilling the putative essence of Japanese femininity, the onnagata skillfully exploit the inevitable gender ambiguities of men playing women on the stage for both artistic and sexual effect."
- John Whittier Treat, Professor of Japanese, Yale University
"Katherine Mezur subtly redresses the scholarship to date on onnagata, the Kabuki actor specializing in the roles of girls and women, in developing a compelling argument about the 'intentional body,' that is, a male body that simultaneously obscures and performs itself. Effectively combining archival and textual research, interviews and the acute observation of training methods and actual performances, Beautiful Boys, not only provides a 'thickly descriptive' history of Kabuki but demonstrates the cultural tenacity of the bishonen, or beautiful boy, so fetishized in Japanese popular culture today."
- Jennifer Robertson, Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Author, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture
"Katherine Mezur's Beautiful Boys/Outlaw Bodies is a tour de force. Looking at over 300 years of Kabuki history, she explores with sophistication and discernment the fantasy of gender transformation embodied by the onnagata. Her book will be appreciated by a wide variety of specialists and students including, but not limited to, those engaged in theater, gender, and Japanese studies."
- Susan Napier, Author of Anime from Akira to Princess MononokeAbout the Author:
KATHERINE MEZUR is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Department of Rhetoric and Film at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.
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