"Digital Kabuki"
CD-ROM (Japanese), $ 115.00
ASCII Corporation
Fax: (+81 3) 5351-8282

"Digital Kabuki" translates Kabuki aesthetics into the digital medium.

The first electronic encyclopedia of the traditional Japanese art form Kabuki--produced by Tetsuya Ozaki and supervised by Kesako Matsui--has already been awarded various prestigious multimedia prizes: it won the Jury Special Prize at the MILIA '96 Grand Prix, the Yomiuri Prize at the Japan Software Grand Prix '95 and the Edutainment prize at the Japanese Multimedia Grand Prix '95. The English version, "Digital Kabuki," has just been completed and, surprisingly, has no distributor yet.
What makes the CD-ROM outstanding is the way it uses visuals and sound to seamlessly combine the aesthetics of its topic with the information presented; form and content may always be inextricably interconnected, but the way "Digital Kabuki" manages to translate Kabuki aesthetics into the digital medium in order to "stage" information about Kabuki is particularly effective. The theater literally becomes a user interface: when the digital curtain opens, viewers find themselves in a theater, and the icons representing the seven topics covered on the CD-ROM slowly appear on the screen. The basic stage setup of the Kabuki theater is visualized in "Computer Graphic Scenes," where users may click on labeled parts of the stage to learn about the lifts or revolving stage and their function by setting them into motion. This section also features re-creations of scenes set in the mountains, by the ocean and along the Sumida river, using the original stage devices and background music to create the atmosphere of these typical scenes. An area called "Around the Stage" provides additional material on standard sets, permanent parts, curtains and stage tricks.
The "Kabuki Database" tells the stories of 60 classic plays, each illustrated with photographs of modern performances; the database also contains information on 50 playwrights as well as short biographies of past and contemporary actors. "Kabuki History" describes the historical development of this nearly 400-year-old art form, starting with its early stages and then dividing its history into categories such as "Classicism and Modernism" and "20th century." Kabuki speech and music as well as acting methods are topics dealt with in an area titled "Acting and Staging." One whole section is dedicated to the types of characters in Kabuki, where all female roles are played by male actors called "onnagata." Users can see an actor's family crest and by clicking on the speaker icon they may hear a voice shouting out the actor's "yago" or house name--a sound closely associated with the Kabuki theater. They may also view "Classic Clips" of actors in their most memorable moments on a little screen placed in the middle of the theater-interface. As a database, "Digital Kabuki" makes effective use of its medium by hyperlinking the material gathered in the various sections; the information is cross-referenced, so that users can easily move from, for example, the history section to the summary of a play that has just been mentioned there.
The CD-ROM expertly combines visuals and textual information, and the use of background music and sound effects also is extraordinary: music and sounds do not only help to create the typical atmosphere of Kabuki, but introduce users to the distinctive sound of this art form in a way that makes them intuitively recognize and understand the sounds and their function and meaning. "Edutainment" seems to be an inappropriate label for this electronic encyclopedia, which constantly blurs the boundaries between art and education : it provides educational information on an art form, and the artistic use of the electronic medium makes "Digital Kabuki" itself a unique art work.

Photo Credit: "Digital Kabuki," ASCII

© Hyperactive Co. 1996