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KABUKI ABC (83) / Young actors’ strenuous efforts: Taking on challenging roles in independent productions

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Nakamura Tanenosuke, left, and Nakamura Kasho

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThis month features a series of young kabuki actors’ independently produced performances and recitals of actors who aren’t from kabuki families. These are opportunities for them to expand their acting ability by aggressively trying on big roles that they otherwise wouldn’t be cast in if they were official productions.

Brothers Nakamura Kasho, 29, and Nakamura Tanenosuke, 25, are producing a workshop titled “Sochokai” on Saturday and Sunday at the Small Theatre of the National Theatre in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. It’s their fourth time to organize such an event.

Kasho plays the lead role in the 1½-hour-long dance masterpiece “Seki no To” (Barrier Gate) and Tanenosuke stars as the fox protagonist in the popular “Shinokiri.” Both roles are known to be physically demanding.

“I’ll do what I can to make the performance valuable for our future career,” Tanenosuke said.

An independently produced performance usually requires actors to deal with a tremendous amount of clerical work themselves: from securing theaters, editing pamphlets, scheduling costars and staff, to managing budgets.

“Senior actors, co-actors and staff spend a good amount of time and effort for our sake and give us support,” Kasho said. “Our feelings of gratitude grow and become deeper and deeper each year.”

Tanenosuke has said that the actor of his age he has been most inspired by is Onoe Ukon. The 26-year-old Ukon will hold his fourth independently produced “Ken no Kai” event Aug. 26-27 in the same theater as Sochokai.

In official producitons, Ukon is often cast in the role of a lovely girl, but in the upcoming event, Ukon will perform tachiyaku male roles. He will play the roles in the famous kamigata (Kansai region) kabuki “Fuinkiri” and dance play “Ninin Wankyu” (Two Wankyus) with Nakamura Kazutaro, 27, an up-and-coming star from the kamigata kabuki circle.

“Fuinkiri” is a challenge for Ukon, who grew up in Tokyo, because it requires him to handle a dialect from the Kansai region. He will be trained by Kazutaro’s father, Nakamura Ganjiro, 59, who plays Chubei as a signature role in this performance.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Onoe Ukon

Last autumn, Ukon’s reputation rose when he played the lead role in “Super Kabuki II: One Piece” at Tokyo’s Shinbashi Enbujo theater as a substitute for Ichikawa Ennosuke, who had to cancel his appearance due to injury. He seems to be a step ahead of other actors his age at this point in his career. Ukon said, however: “Actors can’t act alone. So, I feel rather happy to have actors of my age to work together with now and forever, rather than having a feeling of rivalry. But I never imagine myself falling behind them. I’ll be surviving into the future.”

On top of those performances, August is busy with a series of individual events such as a joint performance Aug. 16-20 in the National Theatre by those who completed the theater’s acting training and actors who don’t hail from kabuki families.

If I liken mainstream kabuki productions cast with popular veteran actors to professional baseball, performances by young actors can be said to be akin to high school baseball. Their performances will certainly present the audience with fresh, up-and-coming art.

— Morishige covers traditional performing arts.

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