Nakamura Shido, the Actor Bringing Punk Spirit to Kabuki

The son of Nakamura Shidô I and grandson of Nakamura Tokizô III, the actor follows in illustrious footsteps and imposes his modern style.

05.01.2020

WordsClémence Leleu

Cinema and kabuki

©Creative Room MK

Born in 1973, Nakamura Shido trod the boards for the very first time when he was just 6 years of age to try to master the subtleties of this traditional, codified form of theatre that brings together acting, singing and dancing. It was while playing a maid that he caught the attention for the first time. However, rather than satisfying the wishes of his family who hoped that he would follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was known for playing onnagata, female characters played by men, he chose to specialise in male characters. This was his first break with tradition, which states that kabuki actors, who form family troupes, continue their family speciality passed down from father to son.

As I grew up, with my size and big build, I was destined to play male roles’, he explains. ‘As a child, you learn traditional dance and female roles. If you know how to play female characters, it adds a certain sensuality to the way you approach male heroes‘, he continues in an interview with daily French newspaper Le Monde.

Modernising kabuki

©Shochiku

His early days in the industry were precarious, however, and as leading roles in kabuki were rare, the young man attended various auditions for films and modern dramas, far from traditional Japanese theatre.

It was just before he reached the age of 30 when Nakamura Shido II started to make a name for himself as a film actor, but he did not abandon kabuki. As the roles began to flood in, he used his fame to benefit the art, in order to make it known to a wider audience.

Often seen as somewhat outdated, kabuki has been undergoing various changes: thus, in 2016, Nakamura Shido II appeared in Hanakurabe Senbonzakura alongside virtual humanoid singer Hatsune Miku, and in the adaptation of Stormy Night, a children’s book.

Modernising kabuki

Kabuki is mainstream, rock, punk, and hasn’t waited for the West to become that way. So, it’s normal that it’s now appearing on television, in fashion… while retaining the beauty of Japanese tradition‘, the actor declares in Le Monde.

So, what is Nakamura Shido II’s next goal? To take kabuki outside of classic Japanese theatres and to more alternative locations. In May 2019, the actor appeared in the play Onna Goroshi Abura no Jigoku in a warehouse situated on the banks of Keihin canal in Tokyo’s Shinagawa district, and also performed in a live music club in Kabukicho in Shinjuku district. Although these places are a contrast to the classic theatre halls, they nevertheless recall the early days of kabuki, when troupes would perform on makeshift stages, outside.