|BIG IN JAPAN
|Courtesy o Kabukiza
If there were such a song,
then "I Left my Heart in Arizona" would undoubtedly be adopted by popular
44-year-old kabuki actor Nakamura Kankuro as his theme. The distinctive curtain hanging
over the entrance of his backstage dressing room has "ARIZONA" emblazoned across
the bottom and a drawing of a golf course and tee up the side, with his family crest on
His love affair with the Cactus State began when he visited his sons there during their
homestay program. He has since had a house built so he can beat a hasty retreat to the
nearby golf courses whenever his packed schedule permits. Travel is Kankuro' hobby and he
especially makes a habit of visiting the location of scenes in kabuki plays, and even
published a book this year about the subject; his seven previous books were about kabuki
On the subject of acting, he says that more than moving his audience, he wants to surprise
them. This is particularly evidenced by his special performances every other year at the
Theatre Cocoon in Shibuya's Bunkamura, in which he experiments with vivid dramatization.
For example, in Kamikakete Sango Taisetsu (1998), after committing a grisly
murder on stage, he walked with the decapitated head of his former lover inside his kimono
in a "rainstorm" around the theatre, the blood washing down his clothes and the
rain bouncing off his waxed umbrella, as sprinklers released liberal quantities of water
over the front rows of the audience. (Luckily, they had been issued raincoats and sheets
of bubble paper for cover beforehand.)
Kankuro is particularly adept at portraying good characters who are driven insane by rage,
jealousy or the trauma of tragic circumstances and, whether he is playing historical
heroes or Edo-period commoners, he always manages to incorporate an element of surprise
and suspense. However, kabuki accounts for only part of Kankuro's work. He also acts in
musicals and comedies and can sometimes be seen in commercials. This year he appeared in a
Nikko Securities TV advertisement as a businessman being dragged into a securities company
by his wife.
Kankuro's kabuki pedigree is impressive. Son of the late Kanzaburo (1909-1988), one of the
most famous and well-loved kabuki actors, his acting line goes back for generations. He is
married to the daughter of Living National Treasure Nakamura Shikan, and has also secured
the future of his line by raising his two sons in the art.
For the past year Kankuro has been seen every Sunday night in NHK's historical taiga
drama, giving a warmhearted and humane portrayal of Oishi Kuranosuke, the leader of 47
samurai who avenge the death of their lord. The part of Oishi's son went to his own son,
Shichinosuke, who at 16 already seems set to follow in Kankuro's footsteps.
Kankuro's final role for this year will be not in a play, but as the emcee of NHK's 50th Kohaku
Uta Gassen, the New Year's Eve program featuring the most popular and well-known
singers in the country. Although it's unknown territory for him, his cheerful and humorous
disposition should ensure an entertaining and successful countdown to the new millennium.