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INTERVIEW | Ichikawa Somegoro VIII on His New Year Performances at the Kabukiza

Ichikawa Somegoro VIII, aka the "Prince of Kabuki," is sharing the stage with his father and grandfather, esteemed kabuki actors Matsumoto Koshiro X and Matsumoto Hakuo II.



Kabuki actor Ichikawa Somegoro VIII. (Provided by Shochiku)

At 18, kabuki actor Ichikawa Somegoro VIII exudes a poised demeanor and a noble visage beyond his years, aptly earning him the moniker of "the Prince of Kabuki." 

Carrying forward the lineage of the esteemed Koraiya guild, Ichikawa is set for a promising future. Expanding his presence on the stage, he is currently performing three acts at the Tokyo Kabukiza Theater from January 2 to 27 for the New Year Grand Kabuki programs. 

Before the programs began, Ichikawa shared his thoughts on his performance with The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward.

Playing the Fool

In the daytime program, Ichikawa plays the character Mataichi in Kori Kori Banashi. It is a playful tale depicting the deceptive antics between a married couple, a dynamic that parallels the trickeries between the fox and tanuki depicted in Japanese folklore. His father, Matsumoto Koshiro X, who is also performing, advised him on the role. 

Ichikawa explained, "Mataichi is a man who only pretends to be a fool. Therefore, I was advised to make the distinction clear between when he was acting and when he was not. I aim to fully immerse myself in becoming a fool instead of merely pretending to be one so that even the audience will feel deceived."

Ichikawa Somegoro VIII (left) with his father Matsumoto Koshiro X at the opening ceremony of the "Matsumoto Koshiro Family: Koraiya" exhibition on March 23, 2023, at Takashimaya Nihonbashi, Tokyo. (©Sankei by Takuro Yagi)

Having experience in Kabuki productions with slapstick comedy elements, such as Yajikita and Yoshiwara Gitsune, Ichikawa expressed his enjoyment of making people laugh. "I don't have a specific preference for comedies, but I aspire to become a versatile actor who can also take on comedic roles," he said.

In the evening program, Ichikawa assumes the role of an attendant in the celebratory dance, Tsurukame (Crane and Tortoise). He hopes to dance in a way that rings in a "shining start to the New Year."

The 17-year-old kabuki actor Onoe Sakon III will also be performing in Tsurukame. "There aren't many kabuki actors around my age, so being on stage with Sakon is truly gratifying," Ichikawa said. "I find great stimulation and inspiration from fellow actors of the same generation. This is the part I'm looking forward to the most."


A Three-Generational Performance

Furthermore, Ichikawa joins his father and grandfather, 81-year-old Matsumoto Hakuo II, for a three-generational performance of Musuko (The Son) an adaptation of a British play by Kaoru Osanai.

"I'm thrilled to share the stage with my grandfather and father. Being part of a play with just three actors is a rare experience. Oddly enough, it's the lines resembling everyday conversations that prove to be the most challenging." he said.

From right: Matsumoto Hakuo II (formerly Matsumoto Koshiro IX), Matsumoto Koshiro X (formerly Ichikawa Somegoro VII), and Ichikawa Somegoro VIII (formerly Matsumoto Kintaro IV) at the Kabukiza Theatre in Chuo Ward, Tokyo in 2018. (Handout)

Reflecting on 2023, Ichikawa highlighted his most memorable performance in Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy) during the actors' festival in September. In the play, he portrayed Matsuomaru in the famous Kurumabiki scene.

"When you think of the Koraiya [guild], there's usually an association with grand male roles like Benkei in Kanjincho [The Subscription List], Matsuomaru in Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami, and Nikki Danjo in Meiboku Sendai Hagi [The Precious Incense and Autumn Flowers of Sendai]. So I was extremely happy to assume a role that is so iconic of Koraiya," he shared.

From Grandfather to Grandson

Ichikawa also expressed his joy in receiving guidance from his grandfather, stating, "Although I hadn't been taught a role by my grandfather lately, I had him review everything from vocal techniques to stylized forms and prop handling for the role of Matsuomaru."

He continued, "Receiving direct guidance from my grandfather, whom I look up to as an actor, brought me immense joy. It made me realize once again that there is so much more I want to learn from him."

Finally, inviting readers to enjoy the festive New Year programs, he said, "There will be a diverse range of productions, and I hope people of all generations and from abroad will join us. Please also enjoy the festive New Year's ambiance at the theater, which has been specially decorated for the occasion."

From left: Matsumoto Koshiro X (formerly Ichikawa Somegoro VII), Matsumoto Hakuo II (formerly Matsumoto Koshiro IX), and the late Nakamura Kichiemon II in 2006. They are the father, grandfather, and grand-uncle of Ichikawa Somegoro VIII, respectively. (©Sankei)

About Ichikawa Somegoro VIII

Born in Tokyo in 2005, Ichikawa first appeared on the kabuki stage in 2007. He made his official debut in 2009 as Matsumoto Kintaro IV. In 2018, he succeeded the name of Ichikawa Somegoro. He has also appeared in NHK's historical drama The 13 Lords of the Shogun and the movie The Legend & Butterfly.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Keiko Mizunuma


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