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Review: Shochiku Grand Kabuki – Salle Jean Vilar

Théâtre National de Chaillot, Paris, France, 13 – 19 September 2018

Japonismes Theatre de ChaillotJaponismes 2018: les âmes en résonance’ (souls in resonance) is a celebration of Japanese culture taking part in Paris and other cities in France to mark 160 years of friendship between France and Japan. As part of the celebrations two Kabuki actors, Nakamura Shidō II and Nakamura Shichinosuke II (whose grandfather Nakamura Kanzaburō XVII was one of the first Kabuki actors to perform Kabuki in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in 1965), debuted in their first Paris appearance by performing in the Kabuki plays ‘Iromoyō Chotto Karimame’ also known as ‘Kasane’ and ‘Narukami’ (Priest Narukami).

Apart from a small independent tour of Yago-no-Kai troupe’s Bandō Yajūrō and Bandō Shingo when they performed at the Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris in 2016 in ‘Omatsuri’ (The Festival) and ‘Seki-no-To’ (Love at the Snowbound Barrier Gate), it has been eleven years since the last full-scale Shochiku Kabuki tour to Paris in 2007 when the late Ichikawa Danjūrō XII and his son Ichikawa Ebizō XI played at the Palais Garnier in ‘Kanjinchō’ (The Subscription List) and ‘Momijigari’ (Contemplating Maples), and fourteen years since the same pair performed at the Théâtre National de Chaillot in ‘Toribeyama Shinjū’ (Love Suicides at Toribeyama) and ‘Kagami Jishi’ (The Lion Dance).

The Théâtre National de Chaillot

The Théâtre National de Chaillot

One of the four National Theatres of Paris the Théâtre National de Chaillot is conveniently located on the Rive Droite (the right bank) at the Place du Trocadero with good public transport connections and great views across the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. It is no stranger to Kabuki the late Ichikawa Danjūrō XII and his son Ichikawa Ebizō XI having played there some fourteen years ago. The venue for the performances, the Salle Jean Vilar, is a substantially sized auditorium of 1,250 seats. Lacking suitable air con it made for a somewhat uncomfortable afternoon in the unseasonal heat. Unfortunately the seating is banked at a very steep angle with higher than normal steps between each row and that, along with the space between the rows of seats minimal to say the least and without any barrier to prevent falling forward should anyone slip, made for some awkward clambering and precipitous shuffling for many members of the audience, especially the older attendees, one or two choosing to use freestanding seats near the auditorium door. Whilst a hanamichi (walkway through the audience) was in use its extreme angle meant that though there was a space for the actors to cast their usual poses at the shichi-san (seven-three) space on the hanamichi the lack of a walkway through the audience meant that the space for more intimate interactions between the actors and the audience was missing, something which unfortunately happens more often than not in Western theatres.

The first play of the afternoon was ‘Iromoyō chotto Karimame’ – ‘Kasane’. It was abandoned after 1849 but was revived in 1906 at the Shintomiza Theatre by Ichimura Uzaemon XV, Ichikawa Komazō VIII (later Matsumoto Koshirō VII) and the music master Kiyomoto Enjudayū, and subsequently at the Kabukiza Theatre in 1920 after which it became a great item in the current Kabuki repertoire and it is performed regularly by the best Kabuki actors.

Japonismes Theatre de Chaillot

Nakamura Shidō II as Yoemon © Kishin Shinoyama, and Nakamura Shichinosuke II as Kasane © Shochiku (Design © CREATIVE ROOM MK)

Yoemon and Kasane are lovers. Yoemon has lost an heirloom belonging to his Lord and has decided to commit suicide. He is followed by Kasane and they plan to commit suicide together. As they travel along the riverbank a skull impaled by a sickle and a wooden grave marker come into view. Yoemon recognises the grave marker and smashes it and removes the sickle from the skull. As he does Kasane’s face becomes disfigured. Yoemon had an affair with the wife of Suke the father of Kasane. Suke’s spirit inhabits Kasane’s body which becomes disfigured with the wounds Yoemon inflicted on her father. Yoemon wounds Kasane with the sickle and makes her look in a mirror.  Yoemon confesses to what he had done and Kasane, now completely possessed and transformed by the ghost of her father, is pursued by Yoemon who kills her with the sickle. Completely possessed by her father’s ghost she continues to draw Yoemon towards her dead body with supernatural dead hands.

Yoemon, an iroaku (handsome young villain) character was played by Shidō and though an extremely important character the focus was, quite rightly, on Kasane, an onnogata role played by Shichinosuke. The Kiyomoto musical accompaniment was as hauntingly beautiful as ever and Shichinosuke’s dancing skills were self-evident in the portrayal of Kasane’s agony which, whilst portrayed through dance, still maintained and retained the exact element of pathos required to get across the transformation of the character from being hopelessly in love to being hopelessly and agonisingly possessed by her father’s dead vengeful spirit. Yoemon was played with just the right amount of self-possessed insouciance at his situation, at least until the end when the dread terror of his predicament takes over completely.

The second play that was performed was ‘Narukami’. It was first performed in 1742 is Act IV of the Toshi Kyōgen (full length play) ‘Narukami Fudo Kitayama Zakura’ (which has only been ‘recently’ performed in 1967 and 2008). The 1742 play replaced the original which premiered in 1684. It was written and is performed in the aragato bombastic style. Judged immoral by Ichikawa Danjūrō IX it ceased to be performed after 1851 but was revived by Ichikawa Sadanji II in 1910 and is now very popular and performed regularly. It is one of the Kabuki Jūhachiban Collection of Eighteen Kabuki plays chosen by Ichikawa Danjūrō VII.

The priest Narukami has fallen out with the Emperor and as a consequence has stolen the Dragon Gods of Rain and secured them in a waterfall near his retreat. As a consequence there is now a drought. Princess Taema has been sent to set them free. In what is deemed one of the most erotic sequences in Kabuki she seduces Narukami who agrees to marry her. As they celebrate he gets drunk and falls asleep and while he is asleep Princess Taema sets the Dragon Gods of Rain free and escapes herself. Narukami wakes, discovers her subterfuge and, enraged, fights with his acolytes and then sets off in pursuit.

Japonismes Narukami

Nakamura Shidō II as the Priest Narukami © Kishin Shinoyama, and Nakamura Shichinosuke II as Princess Taema © Shochiku

The opening humorous dialogue between Princess Taema and Narukami’s acolytes, Hakūnbō (Monk White Cloud) and Kokūnbō (Monk Black Cloud), was carried off with great aplomb leading to the eventual eventful interaction between the two main characters of Narukami and Princess Taema which was performed by both stars with a finely balanced and complex mix of pathos and humour played out with great skill. No stranger to the role, Shidō played the part of Narukami perfectly, the character’s self-serving hubris delightfully tinged with an element of mischievous naivety, the last becoming more evident as the storyline progressed but especially apparent in the comedic erotic encounter between the two main protagonists, Narukami and Princess Taema. Shichinosuke played Princess Taema beautifully with just the right amount of pretended outward vulnerability masking a devious and manipulative inner state of mind, determined to carry out her secret mission even at such great loss of face.

All in all it was a tremendously enjoyable afternoon of performances of two great plays by two great middle generation Kabuki actors. It was unfortunate, especially for this Kabuki aficionado that, again as usual in performances outside of Japan, there were no kakegoe callers of traditional shouts and calls which make for a much more interesting and engaging experience. Bravo Shidō and Shichinosuke!


nakamura shido

Nakamura Shidō II (Yorozuya Guild) the 46 year old Kabuki and film actor and son of Nakamura Shidō I debuted at the age of eight taking his father’s name Shidō the following year on his father’s retirement. He has appeared on many TV series in such things as the TV series ‘Shinsengumi’ as Sutesuke Takimoto (the no good childhood friend of Isami Kondō), and in many films such as Clint Eastwood’s ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ (2006), and performing the voice of Ryuk, the bored Shinigami (death spirit), in ‘Deathnote’ (2006). He has also appeared in Cocoon Kabuki and with the Heisei Nakamuraza troupe. In Kabuki he plays tachiyaku male roles. After performing as a wolf in ‘Kaguya Hime no Shibaraku’ at the Kabukiza in March 2017 in the 38th Haiyū Matsuri (Actor’s Festival) to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the reconstitution in 1957 of the Nihon Haiyū Kyōkai (Japanese Actors Association – originally founded in 1899 but disappeared after WWII) Shidō took a hiatus from acting to receive treatment for early stage lung cancer. Kabuki 21 reports that he was back on stage in November 2017 on tour in the role of Gonta in ‘Sushiya’ and has been quite active in 2018.

Awards: 1996 Kabukiza Award, 1997 National Theatre Special Award, 2000 Kansai Kabuki Aisuru Kai Shōrei-shō Award, Jūsan’ya Kai Prize, 2003 Asakusa Performance Awards Newcomer’s Prize.

Official website: http://www.shidou.jp/

Nakamura Shichinosuke IINakamura Shichinosuke II (Nakamuraya Guild), the 35 year old second son of Nakamura Kanzaburō XVIII, debuted in 1986. He is renowned for his refined features and is probably best known outside of Kabuki for his portrayal of the Emperor Meiji in ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003). He had a slightly troubled episode in 2005 when he was arrested for punching a police officer for which he was excluded from his father’s great shūmei (name taking) to Nakamura Kanzaburō XVIII. He performs regularly alongside his brother Nakamura Kankurō VI with Cocoon Kabuki, and as part of the Heisei Nakamuraza Theatre troupe which was established by his father. He plays both tachiyaku male roles and onnagata female roles.

Awards: 2000 Kansai Kabuki Aisuru Kai Shōrei-shō Award, 2013 20th Yomiuri Engeki Taishō (Yomiuri Grand Theatre) Haruko Sugimura Prize, 2015 Matsuo Geinō-Shō (Performing Arts) Newcomer Award.

Nakamuraya Guild website: http://e-nakamuraya.jp/


Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.


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