On December 5, Kanzaburo Nakamura, a top kabuki actor and director who also helped boost the popularity of the ancient Japan theatre tradition in modern times, has died at the age of 57.
Kanzaburo, as he was known in Japan, died early Wednesday in Tokyo of acute respiratory distress syndrome. He revealed in June that he'd been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
Tributes have pored in for the actor, who was skilled at both tachiyaku (male) and onnagata (female impersonator) roles, and founder of the Heisei Nakamuraza theatre troupe, which performed throughout Japan.
A member of a family dynasty of kabuki artists, he began performing at the age of three. Born Noriaki Namino in Tokyo, he adopted the name Kankuro Nakamura upon his stage debut.
In 2005, he inherited the stage name Kanzaburo in a name-succession ceremony, becoming the 18th member of the Nakamura family to bear it.
Kabuki actor Kanzaburo Nakamura is seen performing in Osaka in 2011. He revealed in June that he was battling esophageal cancer. (Kyodo News/Associated Press)
"I love Kabuki and it's a good thing I love it. If I hadn't loved it, I would have just gone mad, given the family I was born to," he said in a 2008 interview with Reuters.
A colourful art form that dates back four centuries, kabuki features elaborately made-up and costumed actors performing stylized dramas. Though troupes were formerly made up solely of male actors, female performers have been incorporated in some contemporary troupes.
Kanzaburo, who also appeared in film and on TV, sought to modernize kabuki through bold initiatives, like staging plays in unlikely venues, presenting topical subject matter and setting productions to modern music.
His goal was to attract younger Japanese fans and spread the appreciation of kabuki worldwide, through performances in cities like New York, Washington, Paris and Berlin.
"I came over bracing myself for a possible storm of booing... but I was glad to hear cheers which eventually turned into whistles," he said following a performance in New York in 2004.
He is survived by his wife, Yoshie, and two sons, both of whom are also kabuki performers.
On December 5, 700 people visited and mourned at his house. Among them was Arashi's Jun Matsumoto (29), who is a former high school classmate of Shichinosuke Nakamura, younger son at his high school age. “He treated me as if I was his son without discrimination.” Although they have different careers as idol and Kabuki actor, “all are the same. Let’s do our best together” was Nakamura's supportive words.
“He scolded me sometimes, but he taught me many things such as about work and private life. All I can do now is supporting Shichinosuke as much as I can.” Matsumoto says with tear in his eyes.
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:'( RIP Nakamura...57 is so young. (also, Dec.5 was FNS.)