The month of May’s matinee and evening show performances at the Kabukiza Theatre are a lineup of extremely famous programs that are full of beautifully stylized kabuki elements.
The program lineup, including Taimen (Confrontation), Kanjincho, Megumi no Kenka (The Fight of the Megumi Fire Brigade), Dodoji Temple, etc., are all optimal shows for a first-time kabuki experience. They are beautifully directed with impressive costumes and music. Indeed, so engaging are the shows that one is likely to forget that all of the kabuki characters are played by male actors.
The May programs, referred to as the Dankikusai, or Dan-Kiku Festival (for “Danjuro-Kikugoro Festival”), began as performances to praise the great achievements of the two most talented actors spanning several generations: Ichikawa Danjūrō IX and Onoe Kikugorō V. Both actors were front-runners during Japan’s tempestuous transitional period, the Meiji Era.
Although the performances in the program are all associated with the “Dan/Kiku” families, in 2019 the focus will be on the five-year-old grandson of Onoe Kikugoro VII, who will make his stage debut and take on the prestigious Onoe Ushinosuke VII name.
It was the young boy’s fate to be born into an extraordinary family bearing a kabuki name. He is the family’s son for his generation, while at the same time he still a young boy.
At five years old, he is not yet familiar with such prominent kabuki roles such as “Ushiwakamaru,” “Benkei,” or “Genji Heike.” However, he will earnestly take on kabuki dance and acting lessons — all in order to preserve the family art. The young boy will also start learning the mentality, promises, artistry fundamentals, and many other requirements that are unimaginable other than in an environment within a kabuki family.
Today’s leading kabuki actors were also brought up and trained in similar conditions.
During a young kabuki actor’s stage name succession program, most audiences will be familiar with his coming-of-age story. Thus, the entire theater will swarm with “stage parents” affectionately watching over the young actor as if he was their own child.
The program offers visitors and newcomers a glimpse of the world of kabuki actors and families while enjoying a program that honors the long history of the art. Moreover, it offers a chance to see and experience an atmosphere that is uniquely Japanese.
Author: Yukihiro Watanabe, JAPAN Forward