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Tech and Tradition: Virtual Idol Takes on Tokyo's Kabukiza Theater

Virtual idol Hatsune Miku's co-star Nakamura Shido II expects "mixed reactions" as they bring extended reality (XR) technology to Tokyo's bastion of tradition.



Nakamura Shido II and Hatsune Miko performing “Hanakurabe Senbonzakura” in August 2019 in Minamiza Theater, Kyoto. (©Shochiku-NTT/©Cho Kabuki)

From December 3 to 26, Nakamura Shido II and virtual idol Hatsune Miku are co-starring in a one-of-a-kind kabuki show at Tokyo's Kabukiza Theatre. They are showcasing the play Hanakurabe Senbonzakura in part one of the theater's December Program. This is the latest rendition in a series of performances called "Cho Kabuki," powered by telecommunications company NTT

Introduced in 2016, Cho Kabuki is an inventive blend of traditional Japanese theater and cutting-edge technology. In 2019, Cho Kabuki made waves at the Minamiza Theatre in Kyoto. It expanded its presence to four theaters in 2022: Hakataza, Misonoza, Shimbashi Enbujo, and Minamiza. Now, Cho Kabuki is being performed at the prestigious Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo.

Cho Kabuki has gained popularity among subculture enthusiasts, especially among young individuals who have limited exposure to traditional kabuki. 

Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo on Apirl 24. (©Kyodo)

Tradition and Innovation

Lead actor Nakamura Shido II shared his insights on the production during a press conference in mid-November.

"I'm feeling immense joy. Given that the performance is unconventional for Kabukiza, I expect mixed reactions. But that's Nakamura Shido for you. I want to stay true to my way of life, dedicated to preserving tradition while relentlessly pursuing innovation," Nakamura said.

During the show, the venue looks almost like a live concert, with penlights swaying among the audience. Another interesting aspect of this fusion kabuki is the omuko callouts, which are used to liven up the show. Audience members not only shout the name of Nakamura's guild, "Yorozuya," but also call out "Hatsuneya" for Hatsune Miku. The crowd also playfully acknowledges NTT, shouting "Denwaya" ("phone guild").

Nakamura said, "I wonder if this is the first time penlights have illuminated Kabukiza Theater. My aspiration is to create a scene at Kabukiza that has never been witnessed before."

Remaining True to Classical Kabuki

The play Hanakurabe Senbonzakura combines the kabuki masterpiece Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura with Hatsune Miku's song "Senbonzakura."


Nakamura explained, "Cho Kabuki incorporates the essence of kabuki, including dance and dramatic techniques. Despite its outward extravagance, our acting techniques remain grounded in the traditions of classical kabuki."

He continued, "I was delighted to hear that Nakamura Kankuro VI and Nakamura Shichinosuke II also wanted to perform Cho Kabuki." The two appear in a newly introduced scene called "Hottan no Ba" ("Where it All Started").

Regarding Hatsune Miku, Nakamura praised the technical staff by personifying his fellow virtual performer: "I really respect her. Although she had no experience in kabuki, her dancing has consistently improved since the first performance. The behind-the-scenes efforts are truly commendable."

Nakamura Shido II and his sons Haruki and Natsuki Ogawa pose in front of a cut-out of Hatsune Miku on November 13. (©Sankei by Noriaki Sato)

Final Run

At Kabukiza Theater, Nakamura's five-year-old son Haruki Ogawa makes a special appearance. The show also marks the debut of his second son, three-year-old Natsuki Ogawa, who aspires to become a kabuki actor.

Nakamura shared, "Natsuki was born with a condition where both pinkies are [partially] missing." Considering his son's feelings, he hesitated about allowing Natsuki to perform on stage, where his condition would be visible.

However, Nakamura decided to respect his son's wishes. "He might have to go through sad experiences that only he would understand, yet this serves as a valuable asset for an actor. I will see it as the rise of a formidable rival. "

He added, "I think 'challenged' is a cool expression [to describe people with disabilities.] I don't want to forget the importance of looking ahead and embracing challenges. Presenting Cho Kabuki at Kabukiza is also a personal challenge for me."

Notably, this might be the last chance to watch Cho Kabuki.

Nakamura revealed, "I consider our run at Kabukiza as the culmination of this series. Cho Kabuki has entered its eighth year, and I'm planning to give it my all. I always saw performing Cho Kabuki at Kabukiza as the ultimate goal, so I want to close this chapter after this."



(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Keiko Mizunuma

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