KABUKI ABC (55) / Ichikawa Somegoro: Innovative actor cultivates new fields in modern cinema series

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterFrom Saturday, a cinematic version of contemporary kabuki piece “Aterui” will be shown in theaters nationwide as part of the Cinema Kabuki series.

Ichikawa Somegoro planned it as the first production of the Kabuki Next series in 2015, in which he also played the lead role.

The monthly cinema program features movie versions of popular kabuki performances.

Audiences can feel as if they are in a kabuki theater even though they are in a cinema. They can almost hear the actors’ breathing while enjoying the exciting images and sounds being projected on the screen.

The kabuki production is based on the stage version of “Aterui,” which was originally written by Kazuki Nakashima and performed in 2002 by Gekidan Shinkansen, a theater company led by director Hidenori Inoue.

Somegoro also played the lead role of Aterui in the 2002 show, appearing on stage with contemporary actors such as Shinichi Tsutsumi and Miki Mizuno.

Deeply impressed with the world created for the stage work, Somegoro was driven by a desire to produce “the next generation’s kabuki,” or what is now known as the “Kabuki Next” series. By replacing all the actors with kabuki performers, he put together the kabuki version of “Aterui.”

The kabuki version was unveiled at Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre in Tokyo in July 2015 and Osaka Shochikuza Theatre in Osaka in October the same year.

It takes place in the old times, when the Yamato dynasty was trying to suppress the Emishi people in the northeastern part of Japan.

Aterui, played by Somegoro, is kicked out from his hometown after incurring the wrath of the Emishi god. In the capital, he meets Tateeboshi (played by Nakamura Shichinosuke), a woman from the same town as Aterui, and decides to return to the Emishi region.

Meanwhile, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (played by Nakamura Kankuro), a cheerful and popular official of the capital, is given the task as a shogun to command an expedition to chastise the Emishi people. Eventually Tamuramaro and Aterui face off.

The kabuki version features rock music, nontraditional sound effects, lighting and intensely realistic fighting scenes, all typically seen in contemporary plays. But it has also adopted plenty of unique aspects from traditional kabuki, such as tsuke sound effects and the mie pose.

In addition to the dazzling star power of Somegoro, Kankuro and Shichinosuke, the production also features Kataoka Kamezo and veteran performers such as Ichimura Manjiro and Bando Yajuro, who exert their strong presence with near-mystical acting.

This writer’s favorite is the one-of-a-kind Kamezo, known for his prominent performances in supporting roles. This time, he plays an Emishi traitor.

With these actors, the production has lots to offer. Audiences in movie theaters should take this opportunity to pay close attention to the traitor’s wife, because the casting is quite unconventional.

In May, Somegoro directed “Hyoen 2017 Basara,” a fusion of kabuki and figure skating. Wearing ice skates, he played the leading villain alongside professional skaters including Daisuke Takahashi and Shizuka Arakawa.

Somegoro performed very well on the ice, and the response from the audience was great.

In an interview about the show, Somegoro said, “I create what I want to see the most.” With this in mind, he always energetically tackles projects that embody his edgy ideas.

In January next year, Somegoro will assume his father’s stage name to perform as Matsumoto Koshiro X. As Koshiro, he will certainly continue taking on new challenges. I can’t wait to see his “next” move.

— Morishige covers traditional Japanese performing arts.

“Aterui” from the Cinema Kabuki series will be shown at the Togeki cinema in Tokyo’s Higashiginza district and other movie theaters nationwide through July 14. For more details, visit

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