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KABUKI ABC No. 86 / Kataoka Takataro: Veteran ‘onnagata’ actor tackles challenging role in Oct. show

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

Kataoka Takataro speaks during an interview in August.

By Tatsuhiro Morishige/Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKabuki actor Kataoka Takataro said that his thinking about which roles to play, his position in the kabuki world and his goals have gradually changed since he turned 50 this year.

Popular for a style of performance that attracts fans with its calm atmosphere, the onnagata actor — those who mainly play female characters — is scheduled to appear in “Heike Nyogo no Shima,” which runs from Oct. 1 to 25 at the National Theatre in Tokyo’s Hanzomon district.

Many of the parts of “Heike Nyogo no Shima,” written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, will be performed, the most in 23 years.

The second part of the five-part play, a popular segment titled “Shunkan” that takes place on Kikaigashima island, is being performed this month at the Kabukiza theater.

Takataro has long played the role of Chidori, a female diver who appears in the Kikaigashima part. But this time, Takataro plays the role of Shunkan’s wife Azumaya for the first time.

“In the script, the character appears once in the line: ‘Azumaya was beheaded.’ I have a somewhat intriguing feeling that I will finally be able to meet her,” Takataro said.

After the banishment of Shunkan, which will be performed by Nakamura Shikan VIII, Azumaya is approached by Taira no Kiyomori — played by Shikan in a dual role — who is harboring a vicious intention. She commits suicide to remain faithful to her husband. Later her soul becomes a ghost that haunts Kiyomori.

In 1995, when the story was last performed at the National Theatre from beginning to end, Nakamura Kaishun played the role of Azumaya. In the tragic scene in which Azumaya commits suicide, the actor’s choreographed dance moved in time with the Takemoto (Gidayu) music.

“I often seek advice from Kaishun. I want to make the most of the Takemoto music, but I also want to make the music performances more compact to better meet the needs of audiences of today. I’m now trying to inject my own style into the performance,” Takataro said.

Takataro is the eldest son of Kataoka Nizaemon, who is reputed to be one of the most handsome kabuki actors of this era.

Takataro chose a different path from his father and became an onnagata in his mid-20s because there were a small number of onnagata actors in the same generation, and also because of a recommendation from the father of Shikan, Nakamura Shikan VII.

Kataoka Nizaemon’s family is revered among those performing Kamigata Kabuki, a style that originated in the Kansai region. However, Takataro’s father has also earned praise playing many roles in Edo Kabuki-style performances.

As Takataro has had many opportunities to perform with his father, he is now a valuable onnagata actor who can play a wide range of roles in both Kamigata and Edo styles.

Takataro’s eldest son, who is currently a freshman at university, is also a kabuki actor and performs under the stage name Kataoka Sennosuke.

Sennosuke appeared on stage in the Noryo Kabuki series in August at Kabukiza theater and showed off his dynamic Fuji Musume dancing.

Takataro delightedly said, “He admires [late] Nakamura Kanzaburo, so he wants to become an actor who can play both tachiyaku [actors who play mainly male characters] and onnagata roles. Fortunately, my father can teach him the skills of tachiyaku and I can teach those of onnagata. So Sennosuke aims to become an actor who can play both Kamigata- and Edo-style kabuki performances, as well as both male and female roles.”

In the October series of performances, Takataro, together with Nakamura Shikan, who is in the same generation, will lead a cast featuring many young actors.

Increasingly, Takataro is finding that he is the most senior onnagata actor in a cast. “As there are fewer and fewer veterans to strictly keep an eye on me, frankly speaking, I feel scared,” he said.

But at the same time, Takataro expressed his renewed feelings, saying, “Of course, I brush up on my skills for roles that I have played before. I think there’ll be more roles like the character of Azumaya that I’d like to tackle in the future and more roles that I’ll be allowed to perform.”

Takataro took a break in August and September and is returning to the stage fully recharged. In November, Takataro will play three characters in both matinee and evening performances of a program introducing a new cast at Minamiza theater in Kyoto, which will be reopening after a recent refurbishment.

Takataro said he was bracing himself. “I intend to plow ahead until the year-end,” he said.

— Morishige covers traditional performing arts.

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