Committed to the feminine craft

Respected onnagata Nakamura Tokizo V has been trained by the best in kabuki

by Rei Sasaguchi

O ff stage, kabuki actor is a tall, handsome and sensitive- looking man with white hair but a young face. On stage, the respected onnagata (male actor who specializes in female roles) can be anything from a sexy concubine to a faithful spouse.

Born Mitsuharu Ogawa in 1955, Nakamura made his debut at the Kabuki-za in Tokyo at age 5, as Nakamura Baishi. At age 6, he lost his father, the renowned onnagata Nakamura Tokizo IV, but thanks to the support of such eminent actors as Nakamura Utaemon VI, Onoe Baiko VII (father of prominent male lead Onoe Kikugoro), Nakamura Shikan (Utaemon VI’s nephew) and Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII, he became well-versed in historical and realistic kabuki plays.

For example, the role of Princess Yaegaki in “Honcho Nijushiko (The 24 Models of Filial Piety: the Japanese Version),” considered the most important of the “three princesses” in kabuki, was taught to Nakamura by the late Nakamura Utaemon VI in 1971, when he was 16 years old.

When he succeeded to the stage name of Nakamura Tokizo V in June 1981, at age 26, Tokizo acted the role of the pathetic young heroine Omiwa in “Imoseyama Onna Teikin (Admonitions to Women on their Relationship with Men).” And as for sexy onnagata roles in realistic plays, the most important that Tokizo has taken on is Otomi in Segawa Joko’s “Yowa Nasake Ukina no Yokogushi,” better known as “Yosaburo with Scars.” He performed Otomi for the first time at the Kabuki-za in 1990, as coached by Baiko VII, who gave him valuable instructions for acting realistic female roles.

This year the actor has been extremely productive playing important onnagata roles: Princess Yaegaki at the Kabuki-za in April, Lady-in-waiting Onoe from “Kagamiyama Kokyo no Nishiki-e (Scenes from the Daimyo’s Household in Kaga)” for the first time at the Shimbashi Embujo in September, Princess Yuki in “Kinkakji (The Golden Pavilion)” for the first time at the Misono-za in Nagoya in October, and Yaegiri, the woman with a courtesan background in “Komochi Yamanba (The Woman with a Child Inhabiting the Mountains)” at the Kabuki-za in November.

This month, to conclude the National Theatre of Japan’s 2008 program, Nakamura is performing in a striking play, “Toyamazakura Tempo Nikki (The Diary of Magistrate Toyama with the Tattooed Cherry Blossoms)” that runs through Dec. 26. Written by Takeshiba Kisui (1847-1923) for the opening of Tokyo’s Meiji-za Theater in 1893, “Toyamazakura” is being staged for the first time in 50 years by the 66-year-old Kikugoro. Nakamura plays two roles in the play: Omoto, who is killed by her husband, Kakudayu, and her daughter Owaka, who appears as the courtesan Wakamurasaki in the end.

Hard-working and determined to continue studying his craft, Nakamura says that he has learned much while working with Kikugoro and other members of his troupe to create “Toyamazakura.” Since 1999, he has participated in seven out of the eight kabuki plays produced by the National Theatre under Kikugoro’s direction.

Assigned the roles of Omoto and Owaka this time, Nakamura had to think hard how to portray these particular characters. From the late Utaemon and Baiko, he learned the trick of grasping the nature of the character assigned to him and then identifying himself with the character. Nakamura tries to make his performance meaningful by using all his knowledge, experience and skills in kabuki acting, for he believes that it is the actor’s responsibility to make his performance interesting. According to the onnagata, a kabuki actor must have an objective view of himself while performing a particular role on stage.

Nakamura wishes to share the knowledge and acting skills he has acquired through his experiences with the younger generations of the kabuki theater, and has urged his sons Baishi (also an onnagata), 22, and Mantaro, 20, to study hard while young. In addition to learning how to perform their assigned roles and perfectly deliver lines, it is important for them to take lessons in nihon buyo (Japanese dancing) and in such musical instruments as shamisen and drums, as well as in the chanting and dancing styles of noh theater.

At the National Theatre, Nakamura has also begun teaching the young men attending the kabuki training program, as a way of returning his indebtedness to his eminent predecessors who once helped him grow into a real kabuki actor.

At the recommendation of his current mentor, Nakamura Shikan, Nakamura was last year awarded a prize by the Academy of Art in Japan. Naturally, this honor is a great incentive for his future endeavors in the field of kabuki. Having mastered numerous important onnagata roles in the past 27 years, he thinks he can now experiment with new kabuki roles, such as Omoto and Owaka in “Toyamazakura,” working out ways of acting the mother and her daughter and building their characters by himself.