Japanese kabuki star dies after leukaemia fight

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese kabuki star Ichikawa Danjuro has died after a long battle with leukaemia, his family said on Monday. He was 66.

Mr Danjuro, whose real name was Natsuo Horikoshi, passed away at a Tokyo hospital late Sunday after suffering pneumonia, compounded by a compromised immune system.

"He looks finally relieved," Ebizo, Mr Danjuro's 35-year-old son and also a kabuki actor, told reporters. "His final days of battling against the disease were tough."

His death came just two months after the traditional world of kabuki lost another big figure, Mr Nakamura Kanzaburo, at 57 from illness.

Both men died before the April opening of Tokyo's rebuilt "kabuki-za" theatre for the sometimes esoteric, highly stylised form of performance that dates back hundreds of years.

Mr Danjuro was "very active as a pillar of the kabuki world and had many performances overseas, through which he earned the lion's share of the credit for expanding abroad the appeal of kabuki," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

"I lament his death, which was too early," he added.

Mr Danjuro became the 12th actor to use the stage name in the Ichikawa family in 1985 and was known for playing masculine characters such as feudal-period warriors.

He was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in 2004 but returned to the stage.

In 2007, he took part in the first-ever kabuki performance at the Paris Opera House, before receiving a bone-marrow transplant from his sister the following year.

He fell ill during a Kyoto performance in December and was hospitalised for signs of pneumonia.

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