Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Conversation with Kanzaburo

I was invited to sit as one of the guest judges at the 58th Red & White Year-end Song Festival
hosted by NHK, performed live and broadcast on the new year's eve (19:20 to 23:45 JST, 31st December 2007). It is considered as one of the greatest honors for Japanese singers to be selected to sing in this once-a-year festival. 10 people were invited to be the guest judges this year.

One of my co-judges was the great Kabuki actor Kanzaburo Nakamura. Kanzaburo is known for his superb acting, as well as for planning and executing ambitious stage projects such as the commercially successful and critically acclaimed performance of Kabuki pieces in New York in 1977. Kanzaburo plans to tour in Berlin in 2008.

I exchanged short but vivid words with Kanzaburo during the preparations and curtains. One of Kazaburo's well-known roles is "Gonta" in the play "Sushiya". Gonta, a notorious criminal on the surface, is revealed to be a sincere follower of his forlorn master. The fact that Gonta is committed to the great cause is only revealed at the time of his imminent death, caused by a stab from his father infuriated by the apparent vice. It is too late for the poor fellow when the stabbing was discovered to be unjustified, and the confessions of the convert that follows is played so movingly and convincingly by Kanzaburo.

During the conversation, Kanzaburo mentioned that he would like to perform Gonta in front of the inmates at a Japanese prison.
"Do you think it is possible?"
Kanzaburo whispered in a eager tone.
"I think to perform Kanzaburo's vice together with his hidden sincere heart in front of the prisoners would be great. But I doubt if the officials would allow it."

As is well known, Kabuki initiated from the dance drama performed by Okuni at the beginning of the 17th century. When the Tokugawa government forbade female actors from stage, the Kabuki players invented Onnagata, where male actors play the role of women. Since then, Kabuki was never in line with the prescribed norms preached by the powers that be, choosing to go along with truths of human nature rather than the officially approved moral institutions of the times. In Kanzaburo I witness the finest example and embodiment of this living tradition.

The pinnacle of our conversation was when Kanzaburo mentioned out of the blue that Kabuki actors used to visit psychiatric hospitals to study the behavior of patients, so that they could refine the performance of mentally distracted roles. These days, however, such a visit is difficult to realize, as people are oversensitive about being politically correct. Needless to say, it is important to be politically correct in the modern life. The wide dynamic range of the "dramaturgie" of Kabuki, however, originates from elsewhere.

The Great Kanzaburo Nakamura the XVIII th. (1955-)


Claire said...

I'm so happy to have found your blog! I am a Canadian living in Japan, and I speak Japanese, but it is nice to read your thoughts in English. I enjoy watching The Professionals when I have the chance and I also saw that you were on Kohaku this year as a guest judge. It is great to read your comments about your conversation with Nakamura Kanzaburo. I am a big fan of his as well.
I'm looking forward to reading future entries in your blog. It is really interesting to read about your perspective on things outside the usual contrived TV context, where people are always asking you to talk about whether something is good for their brains or not. ;)

Ken Mogi said...

Dear, claire.
Thank you for your nice comment.
Canada was the first foreign country that I visited when I was 15. I can sing "O Canada". As you say, we are sometimes better off without the TV context. Please visit again.