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BIG IN JAPAN
Nakamura Kankuro

Nakamura Kankuro
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 the flag.

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 in general.

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.

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
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
Author
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
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
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
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