Our son is going through a craze for all things Japanese lately. He keeps telling me how much he wants to travel there and see everything, especially the mountains. It’s a little bittersweet for me because my paternal grandfather was part of the cleanup and occupation forces in Japan for three years, going into Nagasaki not very long after the bomb was dropped there. From his photos and what I have heard, he clearly loved Japan as well although he had some terrible, haunting memories and photos too- especially the ones he took when they first arrived in Nagasaki. I wasn’t very much older when I had a craze for all things Japanese and I absolutely loved studying Kabuki theatre makeup. We’ve been watching old Japanese movies with our son and this week we watched The Hidden Fortress – an Akira Kurosawa classic.
Quite apart from the often hilarious, irreverent plot of the films (like many Kabuki plays), what has struck me watching them this time which I probably didn’t take so much notice of before was how much Kabuki still had an influence over Japanese cinema especially with the eyebrows. In the Hidden Fortress film, the princess’s brows are sharp darting arrows in a sharp V shape, sharp just like her fierce independent character. The hirsute hero has very pleasingly thick brows. Before Anastasia Beverly Hills made it a defining feature of their product line, the Japanese understood the power of the brow. In Kabuki makeup, the eyebrows are crucial – they form the main part of the character’s expression and the actor’s real ones are usually blocked out to draw on new ones. A warrior can have brows shaped like a scimitar. A witch may have next to no brows. An aged character often has thick bushy brows. A comical character will have quizzical brows . A blank face chart below followed by four Kabuki character facecharts shows how much makeup and different brows can change the character of the same face. Japan still has a lot of influence over the beauty and makeup industry today and maybe this is in large part because of their love of theatrical makeup long before modern cosmetics.