Kabuki actor heir to revered name

by Yoshinori Yagi

Kyodo

Nakamura Kanjaku has expressed excitement about succeeding to the revered kabuki name Ganjiro, which was passed down by his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

“Finally, I will inherit this great name (in January 2015),” the 55-year-old kabuki actor said at a news conference in Tokyo in April announcing his succession as Nakamura Ganjiro IV.

His succession represents the prestigious stage name’s return after a nine-year hiatus that began in late 2005, when his father, a living national treasure, became Sakata Tojuro IV.

Kanjaku is a scion of a family of performers. Chikage Ogi, an actress from the all-female Takarazuka Revue, is his mother, while his younger brother is fellow kabuki actor Nakamura Senjaku.

Kanjaku made his kabuki debut in 1967. He came to people’s attention when he took the place of his sick grandfather on short notice to play the role of Tokubei opposite the heroine Ohatsu, performed by his father, in “The Love Suicides at Sonezaki” in 1980. He was still in university at the time.

He inherited the name Kanjaku from his grandfather in 1995. At the same time, however, he was hoping to receive his father’s name, Senjaku, which had become extremely popular because of his rendition of Ohatsu. Instead, the name went to his younger brother.

“I was frustrated and wondered why I had not been able to inherit the name Senjaku,” he said. “Based on that experience, I did not want to let anyone take the name Ganjiro.”

Kanjaku is often said to be the perfect actor for playing Tokubei, a role that represents softness and glamor and embodies so-called “wagoto,” soft performing style of Kamigata kabuki — the kabuki of the Kyoto-Osaka region.

He has also played nobles and other roles in a new style of kabuki represented by “Ninagawa Twelfth Night,” by eminent stage director Yukio Ninagawa.

But Kanjaku seems eager for further challenges. “There should be something more to come from me,” he said.

“I will think about what I can do as Ganjiro,” he added.

Kanjaku was born in Kyoto but grew up in Tokyo. He said that he feels his father and grandfather are more rooted in Kamigata.

He plans to move to Osaka once he assumes the name Ganjiro so he will be loved by Kamigata fans as Ganjiro-han. “Han” is western Japan vernacular for “san.”