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TO OCT. 11
After early cinema audiences got over the initial shock of seeing photographs move, they wanted stories, and the logical place to get them was from stage plays. In Japan, that meant Kabuki, the highly stylized form that’s as much dance as it is theater. As Western naturalism infiltrated Japanese filmmaking, the influence of Kabuki declined, but it never disappeared. The films in this series illustrate some of the ways Kabuki has shaped Japanese cinema. In An Actor’s Revenge (at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22), an onnagata (a man who plays female Kabuki roles) vows to avenge his parents’ forced suicide; this is the 1952 edit of Teinosuke Kinugasa’s 1935 film, which was originally a three-part saga. Masahiro Shinoda’s The Scandalous Adventures of Buraikan (at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27) is derived from two Kabuki “robber plays”; although set in the pleasure district of 1840s Edo (now Tokyo), the exuberant dark comedy draws on the spirit of youth-culture rebellion roiling Japan when the 1970 film was made. Shinoda returned to the pleasure district in 1995’s Sharaku (pictured, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6), a fictional speculation on the mysterious real-life career of woodblock-print artist Saito Sharaku, who made a series of portraits of actors from 1794 to 1795 and then disappeared. The series concludes with Yasujiro Ozu’s 1959 Floating Weeds (at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11), a backstage drama about a Kabuki troupe that revisits the small town where the company’s leader abandoned his mistress and son years before. The series runs to Friday, Oct. 11, at the Freer Gallery of Art’s Meyer Auditorium, 12th and Jefferson Drive SW. Free. (202) 357-4880. (Mark Jenkins)