On July 25, kabuki star Nakamura Kankuro will wrap up a historic weeklong run in New York City. Though Kankuro has performed in New York before, this time he brought his portable Heisei Nakamura-za theater and had it erected in the plaza of Lincoln Center.
On July 27, Fuji TV’s “Tuesday Special” (7 p.m.) will present a two-hour “closeup” documentary about the New York performances and Kankuro’s career. It will also look at his illustrious family, probably the most celebrated in the world of kabuki.
Though many kabuki actors work outside the rarefied world of the kabuki stage, Kankuro was the first to really embrace TV. He started acting as a child on various TV dramas in the 1960s. When he became a full-fledged stage actor, he moved away from TV, but not completely.
Kankuro will finally assume the name of his late father, Kanzaburo, next spring, and the special will look at preparations for that day. It will also interview his two sons, who are becoming superstars in their own right.
If you want an example of Kankuro’s TV acting skills, you don’t have to wait long. This week Fuji TV’s “Friday Entertainment” (9 p.m.) will present a TV adaptation of Jiro Asada’s best-selling novel “Tenkiri Matsu Yamigatari,” with Kankuro in the lead role. The kabuki actor read the novel some time ago and has always said he wanted to play the part of the legendary thief Matsuzo Murata, nicknamed Tenkiri Matsu.
The adaptation is presented as a flashback. A young punk named Shige, played by Nakamura Shido, another illustrious member of the Nakamura clan, is thrown into a jail cell with several other convicted criminals, one of whom is an old man who speaks in a low but miraculously clear voice. This vocal style, known as yamigatari (literally, “dark narration”), is a kind of trick of the burglary trade, and Tenkiri Matsu holds his cellmates spellbound with tales of his adventures.
Jiro Asada also came up with the story for the week’s other major dramatic special, “Scheherazade” (NHK-G, July 31, 7:30 p.m.), a three-hour reimagining of a tragedy that took place off the coast of Taiwan near the end of World War II.
On April 25, 1945, the Japanese passenger liner Miroku-maru departed Singapore for Japan with 2,300 passengers. About 1,000 were civilians, but the rest were military personnel. The Miroku-maru was registered with the International Red Cross as a vessel for delivering supplies to POW camps and therefore was safe from attack. However, on this particular run, the ship was being used for a secret mission.
The action jumps back and forth between the Miroku-maru in 1945 and Japan in 1995, when a gangster receives a visit from a Taiwanese man who wants to borrow 10 billion yen to raise the sunken vessel, which has been at the bottom of the sea for 50 years. The gangster and a female reporter start looking into the matter and discover the secret mission.