Stage legend who worked to bring his craft to the masses succumbs after cancer surgery

Kabuki star Kanzaburo dies at 57

Kyodo

Leading kabuki actor Nakamura Kanzaburo died early Wednesday of acute respiratory distress syndrome at a Tokyo hospital. He was 57.

Kanzaburo, who was also a popular actor in film, TV and stage dramas, made public in June that he had esophageal cancer. He had undergone surgery and had been receiving treatment since then.

Kanzaburo, whose real name was Noriaki Namino, was born in Tokyo, the first son of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII. He made his debut in 1959 at the age of 3 as the fifth Nakamura Kankuro and became Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII in 2005 in a name-succession ceremony known as “shumei.”

Recognized for his outstanding theatrical skills, Kanzaburo won fame for his performances both as a “tachiyaku” male actor and an “onnagata” female impersonator.

As an ambitious actor and director, he undertook various bold initiatives to attract not only conventional fans but also younger audiences to kabuki plays, including staging performances in 1994 at a theater in Tokyo’s Shibuya district — an area popular with young people — and founding the Heisei Nakamuraza troupe in 2000.

At Theater Cocoon in Shibuya the dramas were topical and created with a young audience in mind in order to keep kabuki alive as a performing art.

They were set to modern music directed by Kazuyoshi Kushida.

The Heisei Nakamuraza troupe, a 100-strong all-male company, is noted for productions that respect kabuki’s centuries-old heritage yet burst with contemporary energy and humor that are evocative of the early days of kabuki theater in the 17th century. The troupe performed in New York in 2004 and in New York and Washington, D.C., in 2007.

Kanzaburo received the Medal with Purple Ribbon, a government award for accomplishments in the arts, scholarship and sports, in 2008.

His sons are Nakamura Kankuro VI and Shichinosuke II, both kabuki actors, and his brothers-in-law are Nakamura Fukusuke and Hashinosuke. His elder sister is actress Kuriko Namino.