Kabuki legend says nothing tops performing for live audience
Tokyo, Feb 15 (EFE).- Kabuki theater, one of Japan’s most traditional and deeply rooted art forms, is struggling to draw in younger audiences and adapt to the digital sphere, but for actors like the legendary Ganjiro Nakamura IV, nothing beats performing for a live audience.
“It is difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to act alone in front of an orchestra without being able to act in front of an audience. It is very difficult for me,” the actor tells Efe during an interview at the iconic Kabukiza Theater in Ginza, Tokyo, following the recent launch of Kabuki on Demand, a platform aimed at foreign viewers.
The paid-for streaming service allows users to watch some of the genre’s most popular works in Japanese, with subtitles or dubbed, in various countries, including Spain, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.
Although Nakamura is not opposed to such initiatives, which came as a consequence of the pandemic lockdowns that shuttered venues around the world, the actor prefers direct contact with the crowd.
“I know there are other platforms, but we all know that in the case of theater, there is nothing better than watching live,” he says.
“On the other hand, there are people who can see kabuki for the first time thanks to this and others who are afraid to go back to theaters, so they are pleased to have these options,” he adds.
Born in Kyoto, western Japan, into a renowned family of Kabuki actors, Nakamura, 64, made his Kabukiza debut at the age of eight, which is older than most in an artform in which actors hit the stage as young as four.
Nakamura has since been lauded with many awards, including the Matsuo Award for Performing Arts in 2011 and Japan’s Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon in 2019, the highest cultural award given for significant contributions to arts, sports and technology.
“My family has a short history as a Kabuki acting family, with only four generations. Some tell me that this means we have a long history, but other families have more than 10 generations,” he explains.
Nakamura is now busy preparing the forthcoming show at Kabukiza titled “Reigen Kameyama Hoko” where he plays two roles, including a villain.
“This is an easy play for people who have never seen Kabuki since it is a revenge story based on a true story,” the actor explains.
Kabuki shows have occasionally embarked on international tours across Mexico, South Korea, China and Russia.
“As you work with a translation, sometimes people react late and this is curious,” says the actor of his experiences performing on the international stage.
“I think that before the beauty of the style was appreciated, but little by little, we introduced explanations because we realized that (the story) can be understood,” he adds.
On whether he is planning to retire, a rarity in the guild with many actors continuing to perform until they die, Nakamura says: “It is often said that it would be a dream to end my life on a theater stage, but I doubt whether I would, especially if I am in bad shape.
“Being an actor is presenting your body to the public and this could imply showing (an audience) that you find it difficult to move or to sit down or stand up,” he concludes. EFE