Kabuki: Nakamura Shido man of innovation, tradition

Courtesy of Shochiku Co.

Nakamura Shido II performs with Hatsune Miku in “Cho Kabuki” at Makuhari Messe in April.

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Kabuki star Nakamura Shido II upholds the career theme of “tradition and innovation.”

Kabuki actors form troupes in “family” units with their “specialty” basically passed down from father to son and from son to grandson.

The heir of the head of the family is called “onzoshi,” and is clearly distinguished from other disciples who come from the general public. He receives special education for gifted children at a young age, and early on is assigned prominent roles on stage.

In other words, onzoshi, who are popular and influential, are in a naturally advantageous position in the kabuki world. (I think being born in a distinguished family is a gift, just like being fast or smart).

Shido, 46, belongs to the Yorozuya troupe, led by the family of Nakamura Tokizo. Nakamura Shido I, his father, left the kabuki business when he was young, and that meant Shido junior had no backing in the field.

Because of that, compared to the sons of other prominent kabuki families of his generation, he didn’t tend to come away with any prominent stage roles in his younger days.

Thus, Shido went to numerous auditions for non-kabuki-related roles in movies and modern dramas in search of new opportunities.

Just before he turned 30, Shido earned an important role in a movie, making his name widely known as an actor.

His dyed blond hair and personal fashion, much like that of a punk rocker, also gained attention in the public eye as people viewed him as a “maverick” among conservative kabuki actors.

He gradually earned name recognition, which led to him receiving offers for strong kabuki roles.

Currently, his popularity is as high as that of kabuki stars of his generation such as Ichikawa Ebizo and Matsumoto Koshiro.

In May, Shido starred in “Onna Goroshi Abura no Jigoku” (The Oil-Hell Murder), which was performed at a warehouse on Tokyo’s waterfront in Shinagawa Ward and a live music club in Kabukicho, the nation’s largest entertainment district in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

Nowadays, it is common to perform kabuki at a traditional theater that has its own unique “hanamichi,” but Shido has long been planning to perform at alternative locations, saying, “When kabuki was born, it was performed at a makeshift theater outdoors.”

The fact that Shido is able to attract audiences helped Shochiku, the promoter of kabuki, to move performances to other locations.

“Onna Goroshi Abura no Jigoku” is the story of Yohei, the prodigal son of an oil merchant who ruthlessly murders the innocent wife of another oil merchant who refuses to lend him money.

I went to see the performance at the Tokyo warehouse. The usual square stage was set in a barren area with bare concrete walls that resembled a ring for professional wrestling.

The beauty of kabuki style is usually emphasized in the classical masterpiece that has been repeatedly performed. An acting technique called mie, which is similar to stop-motion in modern film, is used in the murder scene, for example.

But in Shido’s version, Yohei wields a knife in the darkness in a realistic way. The sharpness of his eyes, which I could see in the dim light, gave me a shiver and made me feel as if I were at the scene of the murder.

Shido is scheduled to perform in “Cho Kabuki,” a new type of performance, at Minamiza Theatre, a traditional kabuki theater in Kyoto Aug. 2-26.

The leading performers in the show are Shido and world-famous vocaloid virtual singer Hatsune Miku. The human and the computer-generated character perform together without any hint of abnormality with the help of the latest technology by NTT Corp.

Being unconventional as a kabuki actor might show off the individuality of Shido, who is free and innovative in introducing ideas and people of different genres into his form of kabuki. But I would like to underline that Shido respects and places importance on kabuki’s traditions.

“Using cutting-edge technology reminds me of just how great the classics are. It makes me realize what kind of techniques my predecessors created and what kind of theatrical strength they built. You might think we are doing old things in kabuki, but actually, kabuki has continuously been doing novel things,” Shido said.

For more information on the performance, visit:

— Morishige covers traditional performing arts.Speech

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