Kabuki actors from 2 different worlds

Kabuki actors from 2 different worlds
Ichikawa Chusha, left, and Kataoka Ainosuke in an interview

Ichikawa Chusha and Kataoka Ainosuke, two kabuki actors from vastly different backgrounds, will costar for the first time in May at the Meijiza theatre in Tokyo.

Chusha started his acting career outside kabuki and was long established as Teruyuki Kagawa on TV and in films, while Ainosuka has been branching out from the kabuki world. They will appear together in the May kabuki event.

Chusha is the eldest son of Ichikawa Eno but made his kabuki debut three years ago at 46, after he was reunited with his father after decades of separation. Ainosuke comes from an ordinary family and was a child actor before entering kabuki when he was 9. Despite their contrasting backgrounds, they're both iconic pillars of the kabuki world now.

In the matinee for the May kabuki programme, Chusha performs in "Otoko no Hanamichi," which depicts the friendship between kabuki actor Utaemon and a great doctor. In the evening show, he appears in "Anma to Dorobo," a two-person play about a thief who breaks into the house of a masseur, and "Koi Tsukami," which portrays the battle between a man and the spirit of a giant carp who resents the fact that Lake Biwa is contaminated with the blood of a centipede. He portrays the famed doctor, the masseur and the king of the carp.

Ichikawa Ennosuke will play Utaemon and the thief.

The production marks the first time the two actors will perform together in Tokyo since they inherited their stage names together in 2012.

"I look forward to [performing with] Ennosuke-san because I learn so much from everything he does, whether it be timing or expression," Chusha said.

"I'm climbing up from commercial theatre to kabuki, so there's a sense that Ennosuke-san is descending. I'd like to learn kabuki interpretation," Chusha said.

Chusha said he struggled painstakingly with kabuki after receiving his kabuki name and has already had various encounters. One of them was with Nakamura Senjaku, with whom he performed at the Minamiza theatre in Kyoto as part of a series of performances to mark this occasion.

The work the two appeared in was "Jiisan Baasan," which tells of an elderly couple reunited after 37 years. The two actors clicked with each other over a scene in which the couple revisit memories of their son who died shortly after birth.

"My father [Eno] and mother [actress Yuko Hama] met for the first time in decades after their divorce, and I was supposed to be his successor. When I said the story was similar to my own family's circumstances, Senjaku-san empathized and said he had once left the kabuki world for some time."

Ainosuke started performing in "Koi Tsukami" three years ago, and this will be his fourth time in the play. Conscious of making the whole play "visually understandable," there's a newly added opening scene in which the centipede is hunted. In addition to acting that uses actual water and aerial stunts that are traditional parts of the play, he will also take on rapid costume changes for six parts.

Chusha will appear as the carp king in the prologue.

"The original plan was for four parts, so I was surprised when the script arrived and found out it was changed to six parts," Ainosuke said. In June, he will perform in "Koi Tsukami" with different members at the Shochiku-za theatre in Osaka. "It'll be completely different, so I think it'd be interesting to compare," he said. "In our plays there's no right answer. We have to keep taking on new challenges."

Ainosuke said he can "sense the DNA of Omodakaya [the stage name of the Eno family]" in Chusha.

"It's amazing that Chusha-san's performance causes no awkward feelings. I feel envious as someone who came from outside," Ainosuke said.

"In Ainosuke-san's performance I can strongly feel [the influence of his senior in] Matsushimaya [Kataoka Nizaemon]," Chusa responded. "Kabuki is great because training can get you to the same place that bloodlines can."

The two men, both aiming high, are on the same wavelength.

The May kabuki programme will be staged at Meijiza theatre in Tokyo from May 2 to 26. For details call (03) 3666-6666.

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