KABUKI ABC (76) / Misonoza: Historic theater from Meiji era renovated with Kengo Kuma design

Tatsuhiro Morishige / The Yomiuri Shimbun

The exterior of reopened Misonoza is inspired by namako-kabe walls.

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterNagoya has long been known as a city of performing arts.

During the Edo period (1603-1867), the area was a castle town ruled by the Owari clan, one of the three houses of the Tokugawa. Its seventh domain lord, Tokugawa Muneharu, in particular, was known for his urbanity and loved culture and performing arts. Kabuki actors from Edo (now Tokyo) and Kamigata (the Kansai region) often performed in the town.

Presently, the Nishikawa Company, a classical Japanese dance troupe, holds a massive dance performance every year titled “The Nagoya Odori.”

The city’s historic theater Misonoza reopened on April 1 after being closed for five years for renovations. Its opening production, which runs until today, features gorgeous performances celebrating Matsumoto Koshiro IX’s succession to the name Matsumoto Hakuo II and Ichikawa Somegoro’s succession to the name Matsumoto Koshiro X. I went to the theater on April 6 to enjoy the evening show and atmosphere of the brand-new building.

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  • Tatsuhiro Morishige / The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The theater features “ichimatsu moyo” traditional Japanese checkered patterns on the wall.

Misonoza was built 121 years ago in 1897. The latest renovation was the fifth in its history, and was supervised by the preeminent architect Kengo Kuma, who also designed the Kabukiza theater in Higashiginza, Tokyo.

Misonoza’s exterior is inspired by namako-kabe walls, recognizable by their diagonal grid patterns. A shop selling gifts and bento meals is housed on the first floor. When I took the escalator to the second floor and passed through the entrance, I was struck by the bright vermilion floor and walls. The hue is called “Misonoza Red” and was used in the building prior to its renovation.

There are now about 1,300 seats, 300 seats fewer than in the old building, but the interior has become more spacious. The two actors’ celebratory performances are sponsored by global automaker Toyota Motor Corp., whose headquarters is located nearby.

Hakuo II appears in “Kanjincho” and Koshiro X in “Yoshidaya” (also known as “Kuruwa bunsho”). Hakuo has performed the role of Benkei, the play’s protagonist, more than 1,100 times, the most performances of the character among active kabuki actors and a record he continually breaks. The actor portrays the dignified hero who uses every scrap of wisdom to protect his lord, Yoshitsune, at all costs.

I was also amazed by Koshiro X. It’s common for an actor to play his archetypal role for a performance celebrating his name succession. However, it was Koshiro’s first performance of Izaemon, the protagonist of “Yoshidaya.” On top of that, it’s a Kamigata kabuki play. It must be very challenging and an adventure for Koshiro, who grew up in the family of actors whose origins are in Edo.

Once he played the role, however, Izaemon’s character of an unreliable handsome man falling on bad times after being disowned by his family perfectly matches the aura Koshiro creates. I found the scene where Izaemon meets his beautiful lover Yugiri — played by Nakamura Kazutaro, a young up-and-coming onnagata player of female roles — fantastic. I have a feeling that those roles in “Yoshidaya” will be their iconic roles in the future.

Misonoza will feature “Super Kabuki II One Piece” performed by a company led by Ichikawa Ennosuke in May and a performance by the Takizawa Kabuki troupe headed by popular idol Hideaki Takizawa in June. Another kabuki performance is scheduled for October. I recommend visiting Nagoya and enjoying the feel of the new theater.

— Morishige covers traditional Japanese performing arts.

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