KABUKI ABC (49) / Supporting actors: Forging their own paths while making the stars shine brighter

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Kataoka Kamezo, left, and Ichikawa Enya

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSeeing the charismatic star actors and admiring their grace is not the only pleasure involved in going to a kabuki show. This is because any marvelous performance also needs skilled supporting actors with their own distinctive characteristics. Among them, Kataoka Kamezo and Ichikawa Enya are known for their powerful stage presences. In fact, they are so impressive that you probably won’t be able to forget seeing them onstage.

Kamezo and Enya are currently performing in the Akasaka Grand Kabuki at the Akasaka ACT Theater in Tokyo through April 25. The show features a new kabuki piece starring the popular brothers Nakamura Kankuro and Nakamura Shichinosuke.

I recently interviewed Kamezo and Enya to find out what’s behind their marvelous performances and learn about their philosophies as supporting actors.

Large eyes, a clear voice, and a big, straight nose — recognizing Kamezo is easy. Due to his look, the 55-year-old often plays nasty villains and antagonists. But in January, to my surprise, he dressed up as Pikotaro — the globally popular, bespectacled comedian in leopard print — to perform at the National Theatre in Tokyo. In February, he played the comical role of a demon who is eventually defeated by the Momotaro (Peach boy) brothers in a show at the Kabukiza theater in Ginza, Tokyo, marking the stage debut of Kankuro’s two sons.

Kamezo said he never declines a role, simply because accepting and playing them is so much fun. “[Acting a role] somehow helps me in my next performance. I always gain something, no matter what role I play.”

Enya, meanwhile, is adorable, and reminds me of a stuffed toy bear. Despite his plump frame, the 49-year-old is known as a superb dancer. He belongs to the troupe led by Ichikawa Eno and performs regularly. His versatility means he is often asked to appear in other shows, too.

“I’m often told by senior actors: ‘You are everywhere. You know how to go your own way.’ But I don’t especially ask for offers to perform,” Enya said with a wry smile.

Kamezo responded with a joke: “Actually, you do. You also pay bribes [like stage villains do] to win villain roles.”

To be a supporting actor, Kamezo said he approaches each performance with an all-or-nothing mind-set. “If I fail, there won’t be a next one,” he said.

Kamezo was at the top of his game when performing with the late Nakamura Kanzaburo — a superb actor and Kankuro’s father. “Kanzaburo-san would respond with his own overwhelming performances,” Kamezo said, noting that this is the ideal relationship between a leading actor and a supporting actor. “Considering a lead actor’s frame of mind and restraining your own performance is no fun at all.”

Enya nodded. “My boss, Eno, is always telling me I should act beyond my actual ability. Every time, I should be 120 percent better than my best. That’s not overdoing it, but just being appropriate.”

Enya said his current goal is to live for a long time. “The kabuki circle doesn’t have a mandatory retirement system, making it a matter of how long we live. If we are in good health, we can do anything. I want to continue being an actor in high demand for the rest of my life.”

Kamezo said: “I want a happy family life. This is a primary matter for me. I want to enjoy chatting with my wife, daughter and friends. I can absorb many things by spending my private time this way, and use them for my performances. That is my belief.”

These skilled performers are forging their own paths while helping the leading actors shine brighter onstage. I hope you get to see them in person and learn more about their appeal.

— Morishige covers traditional Japanese performing arts.

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