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BIG IN JAPAN
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

BIG IN JAPAN:
299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
Singer/songwriter
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
Comedian
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
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274: Otomo Katsuhiro
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273: Dreams Come True
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272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
Author
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
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269: Moritaka Chisato
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268: Mukai Chiaki
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267: Natto
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266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
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265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
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263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
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261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
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258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
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251: Rie Miyazawa
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250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

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