Prominent kabuki actor returns to Singapore

Kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa XI's new work is inspired by monsoon rains, but he notes Singaporeans do not use umbrellas as often as the Japanese do

Tropical monsoon rains have inspired Japanese kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa XI's latest piece, which is about an umbrella seller who reveals himself as a skilled pugilist when threatened by outlaws.
 

It will be performed as part of a kabuki doublebill at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) this weekend.

Ichikawa, 37, visited Singapore last year when he performed an evening of traditional Japanese theatre at MBS.

In an e-mail interview, he says: "I realised that Singaporeans don't really use umbrellas.

"This is unlike in Japan, where umbrellas are frequently used as fashion accessories or cultural artefacts. There is even a traditional dance called the Parasol dance."

  • BOOK IT/ EBIZO ICHIKAWA XI'S JAPAN THEATER 2015

  • WHERE: Grand Theatre, MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands

    WHEN: Saturday, 3 and 7.30pm; Sunday, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $89 to $185 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

With his new work, he would like to "show the audience a new kind of umbrella dance", he says.

The other show in the doublebill is Uwanari, a story from the Kabuki Juhachiban, which is a collection of 18 classic kabuki plays.

Its title loosely translates to Woman-Man-Woman in Japanese and it is the story of a divorced woman's jealousy towards her ex-husband and his new wife.

"The complex relationships between men and women are themes that appear throughout the world. They are borderless," he says.

For him, this year's show marks a return to kabuki's pure form.

 

One of Japan's traditional theatrical arts, kabuki is normally accompanied by dance, elaborate costumes, garish make-up and exaggerated movements.

His performance last year melded rakugo, a cross between stand-up comedy and story-telling, with kabuki and noh, a classic form of Japanese musical drama

Last year's shows, which were about 90 per cent occupied, saw an engaged audience despite "the language and cultural barriers", he said.

Arguably, kabuki is having a moment in Singapore. Two months ago, Japanese actor-singer Hideaki Takizawa presented Takizawa Kabuki, his modern take on the art form, also at MBS.

Ms Yow Wei Meng, senior manager at an accounting firm, who has watched kabuki for more than 25 years and studied comparative theatre as a postgraduate at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, says: "Ichikawa is a big name in Japan, attracting many Japanese residing here to come to the theatre. It's been a long time since Japanese traditional performing arts entered an upmarket location such as the Marina Bay Sands."

She notes that Ichikawa and his generation of actors are now more prominent in newspapers, magazines and on television, which has in turn raised the profile of kabuki in Japan. Another kabuki actor, Nakamura Shido, for example, starred in the Chinese film Red Cliff (2009).

"They have been appearing in Japanese TV dramas and movies, where fans of such genres cross over to watch them in kabuki," she says.

The eldest son of the late kabuki maestro Ichikawa Danjuro XII, Ichikawa is the scion of a kabuki acting dynasty dating back to 17th century Japan in the Edo period.

He started acting at the age of five, served his apprenticeship in his teens and became a full-fledged kabuki actor in his late 20s.

In recent years, he made headlines for his marriage to the popular Japanese newscaster Mao Kobayashi, with whom he has two children, and for a drunken brawl in Tokyo in 2010.

He likens kabuki to Italian opera, an art form audiences can enjoy without understanding the native language. "You can appreciate and understand the actors' vocal tones and ranges, and the emotions they embody.

"You get a feeling of the atmosphere and mood on stage."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Kabuki dance with an umbrella'. Print Edition | Subscribe