Kabukiza Theater, the landmark in Tokyo’s Ginza district and the center of a Japanese traditional performing art, reopened in a new building last Tuesday with a dance of celebration performed by designated “living national treasure” Sakata Tojuro. Other kabuki actors joined him to present the first of the kokera otoshi series of performances to mark the grand opening of a reconstructed theater.
The series will run until next March. It is hoped that the opening of the new Kabukiza Theater will serve as a stimulus for producing new popular kabuki stars who will strengthen and reinvigorate the kabuki tradition.
The original Kabukiza, a Western-style building, opened in 1889 at the initiative of Genichiro Fukuchi (1841-1906), a journalist, playwright and theater reformer who viewed it as a base for a reform movement in Japanese theater. In 1911, it was remodeled with Japanese decor stressed. An electrical problem caused a fire that destroyed it in 1921.
In 1924, a Kabukiza similar in style to the Kabukiza that preceded the most recent Kabukiza was built. A May 1945 air raid badly damaged it. Another Kabukiza was completed in January 1951. It was closed in April 2010. The new Kabukiza has 1,904 seats, which are wider and have more leg room than the seats in the preceding Kabukiza. In addition it has better stage and audio equipment, including English translation.
Although kabuki is now popular, the industry suffered a great blow when two leading actors died recently. Nakamura Kanzaburo died at the age of 57 in December, and Ichikawa Danjuro died in February at 66. The kabuki world must strive to fill the giant shoes left by these men to ensure that the art maintains its appeal.
It must not be forgotten that for many years after World War II, including the years of high economic growth, few fans patronized kabuki, whose tradition dates back 400 years. It was only in September 1989 that kabuki plays began being performed each month of the year at Kabukiza.
The most important thing for the kabuki world is to establish a firm system for handing down the performing art to new generations of actors. Bando Tamasaburo, a female-role kabuki actor whom the government designated a living national treasure in 2012, says that a system must be established as soon as possible to attract and train people who want to become actors in female kabuki roles. Efforts should also be made to attract people even to the not-so-famous kabuki plays.
Directors and actors should strive to make such plays enjoyable to those who are not kabuki connoisseurs.
There is a tendency for many fans to come to see well-known pieces or pieces performed whenever a kabuki actor assumes a new stage name. The ability to attract audiences throughout the year will be the real test of kabuki promoters and actors.