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KABUKI ABC (81) / Ebizo and Kangen: Father-son duo to perform in two plays important to Ichikawa family

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Ichikawa Ebizo smiles after receiving a Father’s Day present from his son, Kangen Horikoshi, during a press conference last month.

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo will perform with his young son in the July Grand Kabuki at the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo’s Higashiginza district, both appearing in the matinee and evening shows. Even though 5-year-old Kangen Horikoshi is still in deep sorrow since his mother, Mao Kobayashi, died at 34 about a year ago, the boy has heroically declared, “I’ll pursue a career as a kabuki actor.” He was described as “a bright light” by his father.

The show will open Thursday and run through July 29.

The matinee will feature the play “Sangoku Muso Hisago no Medetaya,” a chronicle that depicts the rise of warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Ebizo will play Hideyoshi and one more role, while Kangen will act as Sanboshi, a grandson of Oda Nobunaga, who is Hideyoshi’s master.

This play means a lot to the family. In one of the scenes set at Daitokuji temple, Hideyoshi appears with Sanboshi at a memorial service for Nobunaga. In the past, Ebizo’s grandfather, Ichikawa Danjuro XI, and his father, Danjuro XII, also performed together as Hideyoshi and Sanboshi.

“Since I was a child, I’d wished someday I could appear [with my own child] in this play,” Ebizo said during a recent press conference. “Now that I’m blessed with a son, I’ll finally be able to make it come true.”

Ebizo has frequently acted as Nobunaga in stage productions and TV dramas. “With Ichikawa Ebizo’s persona, it’s not very difficult for me to play Nobunaga. In contrast, Hideyoshi’s character is quite different,” he said. “As I’m already 40, I want to expand my potential a bit further. So I feel I should learn from Hideyoshi, who was not born to a distinguished family, but rose to power from obscurity.”

In the evening show, Ebizo will star in a play based on “Genji Monogatari” (The Tale of Genji). He has often staged the play in his independent productions and improved his performance each time. This time, at the Kabukiza, he will finally stage the play at a grand theater.

“The Tale of Genji” has been made into kabuki plays several times, and both Ebizo’s grandfather and father added to their reputations by portraying the protagonist, Hikaru Genji.

“They played their own Hikaru Genji for their respective times, and I’ll play my own for my own time,” Ebizo said. “I want to present a high-quality entertainment with artistic value.”

Noh performers and opera singers will join in the production at the request of Ebizo because he believes applying the kabuki style alone would not be sufficient for the play. Flowers arranged in a traditional ikebana style will also decorate the stage.

The play will also feature visual effects by Yoshiaki Sawabe, the president of 1-10, Inc., a Kyoto-based digital creative studio. Sawabe will take advantage of cutting-edge technologies to project images onto the stage background, ceiling and even floor, while also changing images in sync with the movements of Ebizo, who will have sensors attached to his costume.

The two have known each other through work on projects related to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. “This is a challenge, to realize Ebizo’s ambition for creating a new style of kabuki in the 21st century,” Sawabe said.

Kangen will play Hikaru in his younger days. “[My son] is training now while shedding tears, saying ‘Dad, you’re too strict,’” a happy-looking Ebizo said. “But I need to do so because he’s already declared he’ll pursue a career as a kabuki actor.

“My grandfather started the tradition of ‘Genji,’ my father succeeded him and I’ve broadened its scope,” Ebizo continued. “I hope my son will create the young Hikaru in his own style. He’s a bright light, and I’ll serve as a pipeline to channel it.”

Ebizo stays active in adopting innovative approaches to the world of kabuki because “I was born to the Ichikawa Danjuro family,” he said.

“All my ancestors who performed under the stage name of Danjuro did so with no exception,” he added. “Preserving the tradition is of course important, but today’s kabuki circle is losing its own passions. I believe it’s good that [what I do] stirs both positive and negative reactions.”

— Morishige covers traditional performing arts.

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