KABUKI ABC No. 87 / Tribute to Kanzaburo XVIII: Top-ranking actors assemble for memorial shows for beloved actor

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMemorial performances for Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII, who died in December 2012 at just 57 years old, will be held twice, once in October and once in November in Tokyo.

One show runs until Oct. 25 at the Kabukiza Theatre in the Higashiginza district and the other is from Nov. 1 to Nov. 26 at the Heisei Nakamuraza Theatre in the Asakusa district.

His sons Nakamura Kankuro, 36, and Nakamura Shichinosuke, 35, who have now grown into respected young actors, will commemorate the seventh anniversary of Kanzaburo’s death along with other big names in gorgeous performances.

In the October performance, three of the top-ranking actors who have led the kabuki world in the current Heisei era — Matsumoto Hakuo II, 76; Kataoka Nizaemon, 74; and Bando Tamasaburo, 68 — will make appearances. “Sakura Giminden” (The Story of the Righteous Man of Sakura) in the matinee features a joint appearance by Hakuo II as protagonist Kiuchi Sogo, together with Shichinosuke as Sogo’s wife Osan and Kankuro as Tokugawa Ietsuna.

Hakuo II’s granduncle on his mother’s side is Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII, the father of late Kanzaburo XVIII. Although Hakuo II is in the middle of his own show, which started in January, to commemorate the simultaneous name successions of Koraiya (the Matsumoto Koshiro family), he is willing to perform for Kanzaburo XVIII “in the same state of mind as performing the show of name successions.” Hakuo II and Kanzaburo XVIII, who was 13 years younger, had a brotherly relationship.

“Sakura Giminden” is a story about Kiuchi Sogo, a headman in Shimousa Province (now Chiba Prefecture) who goes to Edo (Tokyo) to directly appeal to Shogun Ietsuna to try to save the lives of his farmers who are suffering from severe taxation. This play is an important one for both Koraiya and Nakamuraya (the Nakamura Kanzaburo family), as the role of Sogo has passed down from Kanzaburo XVII to XVIII as well as from Hakuo I to Hakuo II. It’s the fourth time for Hakuo II to perform the role.

“This is a bitter, sad and painful story. But the character’s mind is fulfilled,” Hakuo II said. “Sogo finally returns to his house and spends the night with his wife and children. This scene portrays the family bond in extreme circumstances. The older I get, the more various feelings overlap each other when performing this play.”

Asked about Kanzaburo XVIII, who was known by the nickname Nori-chan, Hakuo II said: “I don’t want to use this word casually, but he was a genius. He was an all-rounder. I just can’t believe that I’m praying for the soul of Nori-chan.

“Kankuro and Shichinosuke grew up well enough to perform memorial performances for their father. I think people keep on living by changing their suffering to courage and their sadness to hope,” he said, as if he were referring to the life of Sogo.

The October performance features Tamasaburo and Kankuro in “Yoshinoyama” (Mt. Yoshino) for the evening show, and Nizaemon, Tamasaburo, Kankuro and Shichinosuke in “Sukeroku Kuruwa no Hatsu Zakura” (Sukeroku in the Pleasure Quarters). In “Sukeroku,” Shichinosuke will perform a major female role, Agemaki, for the first time.

In the November performance, actors who have a deep connection with the Heisei Nakamuraza, such as Nakamura Senjaku and Nakamura Shikan, will appear. The plays to be performed include “Sanemori Monogatari” (Sanemori’s Tale) and “Kanadehon Chushingura: Gion Ichirikijaya” (The Ichiriki Teahouse in Gion from The Treasury of Loyal Retainers).

— Morishige covers traditional performing arts.

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