Japanese Kabuki star wants to reach younger, global audience

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese Kabuki star who recently assumed a prestigious stage name said Friday he wants to preserve the traditional art while adopting a new approach, including by collaborating with artists from other genres around the world as he seeks to attract younger audiences.

Ichikawa Danjuro XIII Hakuen, formerly known as Ichikawa Ebizo, assumed his family’s centuries-old top stage name this week after a two-year delay due to the pandemic. To celebrate the name succession, Danjuro is scheduled to perform several of the “18 favorite plays” of the Ichikawa family at Tokyo’s Kabukiza theater through December.

In the world of Kabuki, a stage name is handed down over generations in a family in a male-only hereditary system and carries a great responsibility and honor. A new successor must live up to the expectations for the style, spirit and skill that the stage name carries. Actors usually have three stage names during their Kabuki career as they mature.

Danjuro compared it to promotions to higher positions in a corporation and said he is aware of various views about the hereditary system.

As the 13th successor in the Ichikawa family, Danjuro shoulders a heavy responsibility to keep alive the traditional performing art that started around 1600. But he says just protecting tradition is not enough.

“As a Kabuki actor today, I attach the biggest importance to the succession of tradition, but I also worry about a possibility of going extinct if we only stick to the tradition,” said the 44-year-old star, whose real name is Takatoshi Horikoshi. He said it is a task for modern-day Kabuki actors to attract younger audiences and show them the joy of the centuries-old art.

“There are views that it is just fine to protect the old, but it’s not good enough, and that is my determination and resolve,” he said. “I want to take on new challenges while preserving our tradition.”

He has done some of that as Ichikawa Ebizo. In 2019, he starred as Kylo Ren, the son of Han Solo, in his “Star Wars Kabuki,” in which he brought the blockbuster film to the Kabuki theater. In a Kabuki-opera collaboration in 2016, he performed “The Tales of Genji” with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in Kyoto.

He said he wants to do more with performers from different genres of Japanese traditional performing arts, such as Noh and Kyogen, while collaborating with globally known works such as Star Wars.

“I would like to collaborate with outstanding artists overseas if there are such opportunities,” he said.

Japan’s entertainment industry, including Kabuki, is still recovering from the pandemic, and Danjuro said he is exploring ways to promote Kabuki via social media.

He has performed in France, Britain, Italy, Monaco, Singapore and the United States in the past.

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