The Kabuki-za in Tokyo's Chuo ward continues celebrating the "shumei" (name taking ceremony) of Nizeamon XV, Kataoka Takao, with a series of Kabuki plays that are closely related to the Nizaemon line of Actors.
Shumei is a way of passing the name, artistic traditions and prestige down through the a family. This practice increases the status of the performer who receives the name of an illustrious master.
Kataoka received his father's title on January 2 and began a long series of performances during his inaugural year as Nizaemon XV.
The February program showcases some of kabuki's oldest traditions, showing how Kabuki introduces the new by affirming the old. It is this tradition that has kept Kabuki vibrant and popular. In this spirit, Nizaemon will be joined by the biggest stars in kabuki today, including Living National Treasures Ganjiro and Tomijuro, and other popular actors such as Danjuro, Kikugoro, and Nizaemon's brothers Gato and Hidetaro.
Program A (from 11:00 am) : Haru no Shirabe Musume Nanakusa (The Soga Brothers and the Seven Spring Herbs) This play is about the vendetta carried out by the Soga brothers Juro and Goro
Onna Shibaraku (Woman "Wait a Minute !") Just as an evil villain is about to execute a group of loyal retainers, a voice calls out for him to wait and a hero appears to save the day. Stars Kikugoro as the heroine of justice.
Kumagai Jinya The warrior Kumagai is forced to sacrifice his son to save a member of the enemy clan but must keep this a secret in order to protect the young man's life. This is one of the many plays originally from the Bunraku puppet theater.
Yoshino-yama Hearing that her lover Yoshitsune has taken refuge in the mountains of Yoshino, Shizuka (Ganjiro) travels there to find him. This popular travel dance is accompanied by musicians of the Kiyomoto and Takemoto schools.
Program B (from 4:30 pm)
Keisei Hangoko Written by the great Japanese playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon for the Bunraku puppet theater. The artist Matahei (Tomijuro) has been refused a professional name because of his stuttering, but decides to make one last effort to gain respectability.
Kojo The new Nizaemon is introduced to the audience in a traditional ceremony with greetings from the top stars of the company all dressed in their most formal costumes.
Sukeroku Yukari no Edo Zakura Perhaps the most exciting performance of the evening, this play features the new Nizaemon as Sukeroku. Nizaemon who has gained a reputation for playing gentle lovers of the variety popular in Kansai Kabuki, steps out as the dandy playboy and most famous patron of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters.
The plays are ongoing everyday this month. There will be no shows on the 26th. The Kabuki-za offers a free English brochure on all of the plays. Those wanting a more detailed explanation can pick up a full English program for an additional ¥1,000. Taped English audio guides with commentary are also available for ¥1,650. For information in English call (03) 3541-3131
--By Carter Witt