Obituaries | Famous Kabuki actor Kichiemon Nakamura II, 1944-2021
Kabuki actor Kichiemon Nakamura II has dedicated his life to carrying on the name and achievements of his maternal grandfather Kichiemon I (1886-1954). A famous kabuki actor in his day, Kichiemon I adopted his grandson, allowing the young man to bear his name.
Kichiemon Nakamura II passed away on November 28. He was 77 years old.
Born Tatsujiro Namino, he was the second son of Matsumoto Hakuo. Kichiemon first performed on stage at the age of 4 under the name Nakamura Mannosuke, before taking the stage name Kichiemon II. in honor of his maternal grandfather.
Kabuki stage names are usually passed down from father to son, to carry on the family tradition. The story goes that Kichiemon II’s mother, Seiko, an only child, promised her father that if she had two sons, the first would bear her husband’s surname, while the second would be adopted by her father to bear his name after his death. .
When Tatsujiro was 10 years old, Kichiemon I passed away and his grandson took his name.
To study the roles created by his grandfather, the young actor started his own classical kabuki study group, Konomeka, (fruit of a tree). He also learned from older actors trained by his grandfather to play major roles in plays such as Ichijo Okura Monogatari, a story about the war of the Genji and Taira clans at the end of the Heian era in Japanese history. Mastering these classic roles, Kichiemon II came to be regarded as a jidaimono actor who played period pieces.
“I’m not as good as Kichiemon I,” the young actor mumbled whenever he played the parts of his predecessor. Even after establishing himself as a full-fledged kabuki actor, he continued to improve, stating, “I’m just starting to grasp the splendor of my predecessor’s talent.”
In 2006, Kichiemon successfully performed the popular roles of his grandfather at Shuzan Festival at the Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza, Tokyo. Since then, it has become an annual September event. In these performances, he involved his nephew Koshiro Matsumoto IX, his cousin Kikunosuke Onoe V and young emerging actors such as siblings Kasho and Tanenosuke Nakamura.
They all belong to the Harimaya family of actors, and they have all worked hard to live up to the name. (Harimaya is the yago or trade name that the kabuki audience traditionally shout in approval during the climax of the performance.)
In 2013, Kichiemon’s fourth daughter married Kikunosuke Onoe V, a rising star of the Kabuki world, and gave her a grandson Ushinosuke. In his grandson’s first major performance, Kichiemon watched from behind the stage with a big smile on his face every time Ushinosuke struck a pose.
It is said that Kichiemon was not always sure of himself. When he was young, he felt his voice was weak, so he trained for many years by practicing Kiyomoto, narrative song, accompanied by shamisen. He also felt embarrassed about being 178cm tall, towering over the other Kabuki actors. But it worked to his advantage when he played Musashibo Benkei, the imposing warrior monk, in Kanjincho.
The actor showed his versatility while starring in a samurai crime TV series Onihei: criminal records (original Onihei Hankacho) as a samurai detective Heizo hasegawa (commonly known as Onihei) in a Fuji TV series based on the historical novel by Shotaro Ikenami. Viewers could feel that even through the TV screen, the actor’s eyes were piercing the room. The television series aired from 1989 to 2016.
On stage, the actor has earned a reputation for portraying the psychologically detailed side of human nature, which kabuki fans have applauded every time he performed. In particular, his remarkable interpretation of “Shunkan “ from Heike Monogatari, which he considered his favorite role.
Even in November 2020, Kichiemon played his favorite character at the National Theater kabuki show. Shunkan was a monk who was exiled to an island with two others for planning to overthrow the Heike clan. He yearned to return home, but found that unlike the other two, he was not pardoned to return home. In the end, he remains sorry as he watches the ship pull away. His calm philosophical expression despite his anguish leaves the viewer with a haunting emotion.
The actor has played other memorable roles, including Musashibo Benkei of Kanjincho, not only on the kabuki scene but also in the drama of the NHK period.
Recently, the 80-year-old actor set himself a goal of playing the role of Benkei in Kanjincho. “There is no role more painful than that of Benkei, but there is no other role that leaves you more satisfied when you are done.” he said. He wanted to do it “once at 77, then again at 80”.
Kichiemon Nakamura II was designated a Living National Treasure in 2011 and was named a Person of Cultural Merit in Japan in 2017.
(Read it Sankei Shimbun obituary in Japanese on this link.)
Author: Keiko Mizunuma