KABUKI ABC (54) / Ichikawa Sadanji IV: Esteemed ‘villain actor’ gives convincing performance every time

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Ichikawa Sadanji

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Since many kabuki plays tell stories emphasizing the concept of “rewarding good and punishing evil,” hateful villains and enemies as impressive as the heroes are essential. Veteran kabuki actor Ichikawa Sadanji IV, 76, who reached the 70th year of his entertainment career last month, is known as the leading portrayer of bad guys in his field.

Sadanji currently plays the character Hoshikage Doemon, a villain in “Gosho no Gorozo,” in the evening performance of the June Grand Kabuki running through June 26 at the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Doemon is a successful role for Sadanji, and he has played it many times since he was in his 30s.

The fourth holder of the name Ichikawa Sadanji is the eldest son of the third holder, who was designated as a living national treasure. Sadanji made his kabuki debut in May 1947 at age 6, and took on the name as the fourth holder in 1979.

The nearly 180-centimeter-tall kabuki actor is a burly man with a low, thick voice, and said he is convinced that his appearance and features are suited to villain roles.

“Even if I put white makeup on my face and play a tsukkorobashi (a male character who is handsome, personable and weak), no one would buy a ticket,” Sadanji said cheerfully. He believes it is important for actors to squarely play roles suited to themselves.

In “Gosho no Gorozo,” Doemon is a romantic rival of the leading character Gorozo (played by Kataoka Nizaemon). Doemon tries to take away Gorozo’s wife Satsuki (played by Nakamura Jakuemon), who works as a courtesan.

This play is performed using two hanamichi passages running through the audience to the stage. When Doemon starts speaking in shichi-go cho or seven-and-five rhythm in the main hanamichi set on the left side of the seating area, Gorozo responds in the same rhythm in the temporary hanamichi set on the right side of the area.

Against the background of the pleasure quarters’ colorful scenery, Gorozo,Doemon and two servants continue speaking in the seven-and-five rhythm for a considerable length of time. Nizaemon speaks in a rich, beautiful voice while Sadanji’s strong, low tone resonates in the theater, allowing the audience to enjoy the contrast of watarizerifu, or back-and-forth dialogue from actors on opposite sides of the theater, as if they were listening to music. “Gosho no Gorozo” is a play filled with attractions typical of kabuki.

This year, Sadanji has seen a series of happy events occur. In March, the Japan Art Academy decided to present him with the Japan Art Academy Prize. The prize is awarded every year to individuals who have produced works of art deemed to be outstanding. Sadanji’s acting, mainly playing villains such as Ko no Morono in “Kanadehon Chushingura,” and Hige no Ikyu in “Sukeroku Yukari no Edozakura,” was evaluated highly.

“I was very glad because the prize is not something that I can receive by nominating myself for it. Someone might have nominated me thinking, ‘He’s getting old, so it’d be sad if we didn’t give him something,”’ Sadanji said in an easygoing manner.

Looking back on his 70-year career as an actor, Sadanji said, “This was the only work I could do to make a living.” After a pause, however, he added with a smile: “There’s no better profession than mine. I get attention not only from women but also from men.”

I felt like I was listening to the honest voice of the outstanding villain actor, saying he is happy because he can make everyone happy by fulfilling his role.

— Morishige covers traditional Japanese performing arts.

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