Changing one’s career at the age of 46 is no easy task, let alone choosing to become a kabuki performer from scratch.
But for award-winning actor Teruyuki Kagawa, who made his kabuki stage debut May 29 in Tokyo, it is a meaningful journey to rediscover his roots and make up for the decades he never got to spend with his father, kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke III.
Kagawa was born in 1965, the oldest son of Ennosuke and actress Yuko Hama, who divorced when Kagawa was very young.
It was around that time that he began to think of kabuki as something that he “must not watch.” After that, he kept his distance from it — even when as a high school student he finally went to watch his father perform.
After graduating from the University of Tokyo, Kagawa went on to establish his own career as an actor, winning a variety of accolades. But with the birth of his first son, Masaaki, now 8, he became aware of another calling.
“I think it’s destiny,” Kagawa said of his decision to take the leap into kabuki. “I’m keeping the promise made when I was born into this family.”
To lead his son toward inheriting the stage name Ennosuke, a moniker that has been kept within the family bloodline and handed down for 140 years, Kagawa announced last autumn that he and Masaaki would both enter the world of kabuki.
In kabuki, where actors typically start their training at a very young age and acting styles are passed on from father to son or teacher to apprentice, a debut by an actor in his 40s is the rarest of all exceptions.
Even Kagawa, an established actor, found it difficult to learn the new tricks, from how to deliver his lines to how to strike the right pose.
“At this age, whatever one does ends up being like wearing borrowed plumes,” he said.
The busy days have brought on an avalanche of different feelings.
When his father helped him apply kabuki makeup for the first time, Kagawa said his heart was filled with emotion. It was like a missing piece of a puzzle was finally being put in place, and he wished it had come 40 years earlier.
Ennosuke would watch Kagawa rehearse, sometimes giving advice on intonation and how to project his voice. “I felt the pressure that I need to know everything about kabuki,” Kagawa said.
But rehearsals helped relieve a lot of the pressure as he focused on the acting aspects. The rehearsals also provided him with a precious opportunity to spend time with his father, whose existence had been so distant for such a large part of his life.
“To be able to spend this kind of time (together with my father) is like the goal of my life,” Kagawa said. At a performance this month, Kagawa is expected to adopt the stage name of Ichikawa Chusha as its ninth-generation holder.
Meanwhile, his son will become the fifth-generation Ichikawa Danko. Kabuki stage names are bestowed and passed down between generations. Many actors go through several names over the course of their career.
Ennosuke’s advice and teachings — to give his all on stage — have struck a chord with his son.
“Perhaps surprisingly, our two worlds have never really been that far apart,” Kagawa said.
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