Kabuki kicks off the new year


Special To The Japan Times

Audiences at the Asakusa Kokaido venue in Tokyo have been welcoming 2013 in with some high culture.

Ichikawa Ebizo XI opened the public hall’s program for the new year with a 45-minute piece titled “Kotobuki Soga no Taimen” (“The Soga Brothers Meet their Enemy”). The day-long program of kabuki consists of two parts, the first of which includes two numbers and the second, three.

Ebizo, 35, is the son of Ichikawa Danjuro XII, one of the most eminent kabuki actors in the country today and head of the Ichikawa clan of performers.

In “Kotobuki Soga no Taimen,” Ebizo takes on the role of Kudo Suketsune, a general who serves the head of the Kamakura shogunate, Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199). The story ends when Suketsune invites Goro (Onoe Masuya, 27) and Juro (Nakamura Kazutaro, 22), the two sons of a man named Kawazu no Saburo — whom he killed 18 years ago — to attend a hunting event where they will have a chance to avenge their father’s death.

“Kanjincho,” a play that is performed in the second portion of the day’s performances, is one of the 18 kabuki plays that are reportedly considered important to the Ichikawa family. It was created by Namiki Gohei in 1840 and is based on the famous noh play “Ataka.” In this work, Ebizo delivers an admirable performance as Benkei to dazzling nagauta (narrative song) accompaniment, which includes shamisen, flute and percussion. Kataoka Takataro (45) plays Yoshitsune fleeing from his brother, Yoritomo, and Kataoka Ainosuke (40) plays Togashi, who guards the barrier at Ataka in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Actually, on the occasion of succeeding to his stage name in 2004, Ebizo played Togashi next to his father, Danjuro, who took the role of Benkei.

Starting in the late Edo Period (1830-1867), Asakusa became the center of Japan’s entertainment industry for a century. The tradition of presenting kabuki performances for the new year was revived at Asakusa Kokaido by Shochiku Co. in 1980.

The New Year Kabuki program with Ichikawa Ebizo XI is being presented at Asakusa Kokaido in Taito-ku, Tokyo, through Jan. 27. The first part begins at 11 a.m. and the second part begins at 3 p.m. Tickets cost ¥2,500, ¥6,000 or ¥11,000 depending on the seats and are sold at Asakusa Kokaido, Shimbashi Embujo and Sunshine Theater. For more information, call the Shochiku Ticket Office at 0570-000-489, or call 03-5550-1686 or visit www.asakusa-koukaidou.net (in Japanese).