vanity, thy name is onnagata
Yamashita Kinsaku II was an outstanding onnagata (female roles) actor, who won fame for himself in both Edo and Kamigata during the second half of the eighteenth century. 2 His specialties included pretty boy roles (iroko) and young female roles (waka onnagata). He first appeared on stage at the Nakamura Kumetaro Theater in Kyoto in 1747, and was adopted by Yamashita Kinsaku I and became Yamashita Kinsaku II in 1749. In 1752 he moved to Edo and performed at the Nakamura Theater. In 1755 he went back to Osaka. In 1769 he went to Edo again and became famous. He ranked as the best actor of female roles in 1779. He excelled in all female roles and was also a skilled haikai (comic linked-verse) poet. 3
but further, we need to understand about the social environment the kabuki actors experienced.
according to nancy g. hume, in her book japanese aesthetics and culture, "the life of the actor -- his background, training, and professional and social relationships -- was fascinating to the wider audience of theatergoers. the main focus of kabuki was less the play than the actor who attracted attention not only because of his dramatic talent but because of his lineage, his physical assets, and his private life. boyish beauty, unusual acting ability, elaborate reputations for a luxurious lifestyle, and romantic entanglements titillated a public vulnerable to the glamour of the theater world.
the most popular actors lived in luxury, commanding high salaries and receiving lavish gifts from admirers and patrons. some of the more prosperous, particularly in kyoto and osaka, became theater owners. others owned or had a part interest in teahouses. some kept a considerable number of beautiful youths in their homes whom they trained as actors.
customers of the teahouses could arrange for these boys to entertain and drink with them and serve as sexual partners. daimyo and men of wealth summoned them to their mansions to entertain and to spend the night. called iroko (sex youths) or butaiko (stage youths), they ranged in age from thirteen to about seventeen.
estimates claim that 80 or 90 percent of the onnagata during the first half of the toku- gawa period started as iroko. yamashita kinsaku is only one of the many actors who emerged from this background." 4
now if you were a man in the public eye, known for your womanly grace and overall attractiveness, which of these portraits, by seven different artists and displayed in chronological order, would really just bug you the most? and wouldn't your fans just rail?!
and what has changed? a real fan will not want to see unflattering portraits of their favorite movie stars, but judging by the checkstand tabloids, there is still a desire by enough of the rest of us to see into the stars' "true natures," unflattering or not.