Nakamura Kichiemon

Nakamura Kichiemon
Courtesy of Himeji Welcome 21

"I just like to lie in front of the TV and watch American football, F1 races, tennis, golf and Star Trek-I love science fiction," says the retiring, home-loving kabuki actor Nakamura Kichiemon. Despite his public prominence, he is a private man who doesn' much enjoy going out, preferring to spend time with his family or alone sketching, painting, or listening to jazz. With four daughters but no sons, he is spared the necessity of spending his whole life engrossed in passing on his kabuki traditions to his heirs. This does not mean, however, that his interest in kabuki ceases the moment he steps off stage. He helps train young actors, teaches at the National Theatre and also writes and produces plays under the name of Matsu Kanshi.

Kichiemon, 55, was born the son of Matsumoto Hakuo. His paternal grandfather was Matsumoto Koshiro, the name now used by Kichiemon's older brother. Kichiemon was officially adopted by his maternal grandfather, Nakamura Kichiemon I, and took the stage name Kichiemon II at age 22. He specializes in the male heroes of jidaimono, the historical plays, and the role of commoner in sewamono, Edo-period dramas. He is especially popular because of his ability to depict the warmth and humanity of these characters. Another role with which he is closely associated is one that he played for ten years in the TV series Onihei Hankacho. He played Hasegawa Heizo, a government law enforcement officer who is partial to alcohol and has a soft spot for criminals, unless they are murderers. Kichiemon himself admits to feeling a special fondness for this role.

In the past few years, Kichiemon has started to explore new aspects of his art. Last year he created, directed and starred in a new dance drama about an old woman whose son is killed in the war between the Heike and Genji clans, focusing on maternal love and anti-war sentiments. The play was staged at Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima, a World Heritage site. Kichiemon, a large man, does not usually play women's roles unless they are comic, but for the first time he acted a serious female role. This September at the Kabuki-za in Ginza he will perform his first chunori aerial stunt, which involves flying on wires from the stage to the top floor of the theatre, and is the trademark of fellow kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke. In October Kichiemon will perform at Himeji Castle, also a World Heritage site, in a play he organizes and directs. This location may have special meaning for Kichiemon since Himeji is in present-day Hyogo Prefecture, previously known as Harima, and Kichiemon's acting house name is Harima-ya.

It is interesting to muse on what kind of life Kichiemon would have led had he not been born into a prestigious acting family. Perhaps a professor of French literature - his major at university - or of biology, since he loves nature and insects? A sculptor, painter or poet? He has already written two books and writes waka poems. He has always channeled the sensitive side of his nature into his art. After all, he says, an actor is also an artist and needs to be moved.

Jean Wilson

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