Kabuki star Ichikawa Danjuro shows innovative spirit, devotion to tradition

The Japan News
Ichikawa Danjuro XIII, Hakuen, speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Friday.

Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro XIII, Hakuen, held a press conference on Friday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo to share his thoughts on his stage name succession. As the new Danjuro, he expressed his determination not only to carry on the traditions of kabuki, but also to take on new challenges.

Ichikawa, 44, officially assumed the name Danjuro at a special performance held at the Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo on Monday. Ichikawa shared his thoughts that while titles change in the corporate world as one rises through the ranks, kabuki actors do not have titles, and that the opportunity to assume a new different name may have been created to help them grow as an actor.

The pressure of assuming the Danjuro name was “extraordinary,” he said.

When he assumed the name Ebizo in 2004, his father, Ichikawa Danjuro XII, was still alive, but his father passed away in 2013. Looking back on that succession, he said: “I left everything to my father and was able to concentrate on performing on stage. At the time, I thought that was the norm.”

On the occasion of assuming the Danjuro name, he said: “I learned anew what my father and mother had done for me when I assumed the name of Ebizo. My father protected me and my mother supported that.”

“Tradition and formality are a large part of the name succession, but it is also a place to learn about my father’s love, my mother’s thoughts,” Danjuro said.

He has been actively engaged in overseas performances in Britain, France, Singapore, the United States and other countries, including a performance in Paris when he assumed the name of Ebizo.

His succession was originally scheduled for May 2020, but was postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. According to Danjuro, before his name succession was postponed, there was a plan to hold performances overseas to commemorate his succession. He noted that the global spread of the virus “has raised the bar [for overseas performances] very high.” But he added, “Performing in front of people overseas will remain one of my hopes and dreams.”

Danjuro also mentioned the possibility of using the internet to deliver his message to people overseas, as staging in-person performances overseas has been difficult.

He has taken on new types of kabuki performance, such as performing a kabuki rendition of Star Wars during his Ebizo era and collaborating with opera singers. He said, “While I place great importance on the transmission of the classics, there is a possibility that kabuki will die out if that is the only way, so it is our role to present kabuki to young people so that they too will learn that kabuki is interesting.”

Speaking of the impact of the pandemic on the entertainment industry as a whole, he said: “We cannot say that we have recovered. I want to do my best to produce results [attracting younger generations].”

The performances commemorating the succession will start on Nov. 7 at the Kabukiza Theatre through Nov. 28, including “Kanjincho” and “Sukeroku Yukari no Edo Zakura.” The name succession performances will continue across the country until October 2024.

The Japan News
Ichikawa Danjuro XIII, Hakuen, shows his new autograph during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Friday.