|BIG IN JAPAN
average Japanese their opinion of Kabuki, and the response is "It' boring, I don't
understand it and it puts me to sleep," says Ichikawa Ennosuke, the actor who has
made a name for himself by flouting many of the cloistered Kabuki world's rules and
modernizing the art so that it is understandable to today's audiences.
Determined to change Kabuki's negative image, Ichikawa has made it a policy in his own
productions to cut all redundant dialogue, speed up the delivery of lines, and alternate
fast-moving action scenes with slower ones that reveal emotion and deepen
characterization. His motto is "Story, Speed and Spectacle," and his aim both as
an actor and as a director is to bring back the energy and excitement of Edo-period Kabuki
and make it appealing to modern audiences.
To achieve that aim, he has revived various theatrical stunts, such as quick costume
changes, cascades of real water on stage and breathtaking chunori (flying on
wires from the stage over the heads of the audience to the top floor). When he first
performed chunori in 1968, the audience loved it and to date he has notched up over 4,500
flights. Ichikawa can largely be credited with giving Kabuki greater mass appeal today
than at any time this century. However, many traditionalists pour scorn on his efforts. He
admits that he has been bullied by senior actors who mocked his performances, but he is
quick to add that the criticism has only fueled his determination to continue.
Ichikawa was born in 1939, the eldest son of Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danshiro III and made
his stage debut at seven. The most profound influence on his art came from his
grandfather, the experimentalist Kabuki actor En'o, with whom Ichikawa lived from the age
of 15. In May 1963, at age 23, he took the official name of Ennosuke III, but tragedy
struck a double blow when Ichikawa's grandfather died just one month after the naming
ceremony, and his father died five months later.
He was encouraged to find another leading actor as his teacher but refused, insisting on
going his own way. This resulted in his being given inferior parts for several years, but
it was during this time that Ichikawa established his own experimental group so that he
could perform the roles he wanted. For the next two decades Ichikawa focused on creating
new productions of classical plays and reviving forgotten works. He also toured and taught
overseas, especially in Europe, where he is regarded as the artistic peer of such
performance masterminds as Maurice Bejart and Sir Peter Brook.
As he honed his skills as a director and producer, Ichikawa's ideas started to take shape
for "Super Kabuki" - an energetic, fast-paced Kabuki spoken in modern Japanese,
featuring high-tech special effects, dynamic lighting, stunning costumes and minimalist
sets. Since 1986 he has produced and starred in six Super Kabuki shows, which have drawn
in new audiences and packed venues for months. Look forward to his seventh Super Kabuki,
"Sangokushi," which will premiere in Tokyo in April at the Shimbashi Embujo