Nakamura Shido, the Actor Bringing Punk Spirit to Kabuki

05.01.2020

WordsClémence Leleu

The eldest son of Nakamura Shido I and grandson of Nakamura Tokizo III, two stars in the world of kabuki, Nakamura Shido II is following in illustrious footsteps. He imposes his own, resolutely contemporary style, without rejecting the essence of this highly codified form of traditional Japanese theatre.

Now aged 46, he trod the boards for the very first time precisely 40 years ago to try to master the subtleties of this form of theatre which brings together acting, singing and dancing. He first caught the attention playing a servant. His family hoped that he would follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was known for playing onnagata, female characters enacted by men, but instead 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’, the actor 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.

Cinema and kabuki

©Creative Room MK

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 thirty 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 of kabuki, in order to make it known to a wider audience.

As kabuki is often seen as somewhat outdated, it has been undergoing various changes over the past few years. 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

©Shochiku

‘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’s Nakamura Shido II’s next goal? To take kabuki outside of classic Japanese theatres and to more alternative locations. In May 2019, he appeared in the play Onna Goroshi Abura no Jigoku in a warehouse situated on the banks of Keihin canal in Shinagawa, 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. They represent a way for Nakamura Shido to modernise kabuki, but without breaking with the oldest traditions.