Kabuki actor, silent film narrator keep traditions alive

by May Masangkay

Kyodo

For kabuki actor Onoe Kikunosuke and silent film narrator Ichiro Kataoka, keeping old traditions alive and sharing them with as many local and foreign fans as possible remain their mission.

Kikunosuke, who performed in an onnagata female role in “Sagi Musume” (“Heron Maiden”) in an event Thursday as part of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, said he hopes people watching the traditional Japanese performing art for the first time will appreciate its beauty.

” ‘Heron Maiden’ is a dance piece that captures all of what is beautiful in the features of an onnagata,” Kikunosuke told reporters in front of the Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo prior to his performance at the venue.

It is the third consecutive year a kabuki event was held in collaboration with the film festival, which is showcasing more than 200 films from around the world. The festival has also become a stage to introduce Japanese performing arts and culture.

Kikunosuke’s performance in one of the famous pieces for onnagata depicts a tragic love story of a heron that turns into a young woman and falls in love with a man. Their relationship eventually fails.

Kabuki, a tradition of more than 400 years, features male actors wearing elaborate makeup and costumes. The onnagata female roles are also played by male actors.

Kikunosuke, who has performed overseas such as in London and Beijing, said he believes those who are watching kabuki for the first time will also enjoy what is known as hikinuki, a technique involving a quick change of costumes on stage, which he performed multiple times Thursday.

Kataoka, one of Japan’s well-known traditional benshi, or live narrator for silent films, said he looks forward to see how an old film will “resonate” to the modern-day audience.

“Benshi narrates past films to people of the current times and revives the old films” into something that relevant to the present, he said.

At the same theater, Kataoka gave a lively narration for the classic Japanese silent film, “Chushingura,” accompanied by the music of shamisen guitar, taiko drum and piano.

“Chushingura” is a famous story of 47 samurai seeking to avenge their master’s death and has been adapted in many forms such as dramas, movies and plays.

Ichiro Furutachi, a well-known Japanese TV personality, also gave a more contemporary take in his performance as a guest benshi narrator for another silent film, “Blood’s Up at Takata-no-Baba.”