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KABUKI ABC No. 90 / Hokaibo: Back from injury, Ichikawa Ennosuke gives his all in 1st turn as villainous priest

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterIchikawa Ennosuke has returned from a serious injury to his left arm to stand out with vigorous performances.

Through Nov. 26 at the Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo’s Higashiginza district, he is playing the title character in “Hokaibo” as part of the evening program of the Kichirei Kaomise Okabuki show.

This is the first time for Ennosuke to play Hokaibo, which is also a rare villainous role for the veteran actor. In the final scene, Ennosuke also performs a dance as a ghost, in which the souls of a man and a woman have coalesced.

In October 2017, Ennosuke broke his left arm onstage at Super Kabuki II One Piece and was hospitalized. Though the injury was serious, he steadily rehabilitated and returned to the kabuki stage in January at the Kabukiza.

Since then, Ennosuke has appeared on the stage of the Osaka Shochikuza Theatre in April, July and October; at the Misonoza in Nagoya in May; and at the Kabukiza Theatre and the Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre in August.

In addition, during intervals of kabuki shows, Ennosuke also appeared in a TV drama. He has managed a superhuman schedule.

Though Ennosuke said he is “now about 85 percent,” he also expressed his enthusiasm: “One year has passed before I could realize it and I feel time has passed more quickly than in the past. Because I am taking a rest in December, my last time on stage this year is in November, so I want to give my all.”

In this month’s play, the villainous priest Hokaibo is stubble-faced and wears ragged clerical clothes. He is corrupt, has a boundless appetite for money and wants to get close to beautiful women. Hokaibo repeats wrongdoings related to a noble family’s trouble triggered by the loss of a treasure. Expressing a winsome tone, however, is also necessary to play the role.

In the past, Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII and XVIII were highly praised for their performances as Hokaibo.

“As the character is strongly associated with them, I can’t avoid being compared to them,” Ennosuke said. “But actors playing the character have different kinds of winsome tones, and so I think it is fine that there are various ways of playing the character of Hokaibo.”

Ennosuke said he is performing the play as an orthodox comedy.

“If I aim to goof around, I can do so without any limit, but the play must not appear like a mere comedy skit. Keeping the balance is difficult,” he said. “I want to make the audience laugh through my acting, not through inside jokes.”

Ennosuke uses a scenario book passed down in his family and stage performances of Ichikawa Eno, his uncle, as references for his performance. He said he wants to examine very detailed points and sort out elements in the performance so that he can brush up on his way of playing Hokaibo.

Another legend who played Hokaibo in a film was Kenichi Enomoto, also known as Enoken, who was called the king of comedy in Japan and had flourished as an actor in both the prewar and postwar years. Ennosuke said he likes Enomoto very much and uses the movie as another reference for considering how to play the character.

The last scene of the play is a dance. Ennosuke performs in the dance as the highly difficult character of the ghost in which the evil souls of Hokaibo and Princess Nowake have coalesced.

With high-level skills in both tachiyaku (playing male characters) and onnagata (playing female characters), Ennosuke is supremely qualified for this role.

“Because it is a ghost and thus doesn’t have legs, I have to dance paying attention to that point,” he said.

Many young kabuki actors in their 20s, including Bando Minosuke, Onoe Ukon and Nakamura Hayato — who were all involved in One Piece Kabuki — are costars in the play.

“I feel it’s good I can see their development as actors at the Kabukiza,” Ennosuke said, his face glowing as the proud steady leader who has guided and trained young actors with an eye to the future of kabuki.

— Morishige covers traditional performing arts.

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