Kabuki, Japan's most famous form of classical theater, has a rising star called Nakamura Shidou. He is rapidly gaining fans throughout the country, not only for his Kabuki performances, but for his TV and film acting as well. Now 30 years old, he was in the third grade of elementary school when he first appeared on the Kabuki stage. He carries on the traditions of the Yorozuya acting family.
"I was born into a Kabuki acting family, but my father gave up the idea of becoming an actor when he was a child, so I grew up in a very ordinary home. But I watched Kabuki a lot when I was little, and really liked it, so I decided to become an actor. The Kabuki theater became my place for work and play, and I began to think of myself as a Kabuki actor. To get to the theater I used to go by train, and I remember thinking as a kid that I was shuttling between the fantasy land of Kabuki and the real world."
Kabuki actors are expected to concentrate their studies on the art, but Shidou took time out to go to university. "My grandmother would tell me I had to go to university and think about the future, and I felt what she said made sense. I wanted to show my respect by following her advice, and I wanted to go in any case, so I entered university and majored in drama. As part of our studies we watched Kabuki and had to submit a report on it. That was a valuable experience because it was the first time I looked at Kabuki through the eyes of an outsider. It made me vividly aware once more just how interesting Kabuki is."
Now Shidou spends about half of the year performing in Kabuki, and the other half as a TV and film actor. His role in the 2002 movie Ping Pong earned him the "best new actor" award at almost every one of Japan's many film festivals.
"Whether I'm acting in a movie or on the Kabuki stage, I always think of myself as a newcomer.
"I auditioned for Ping Pong because I wanted to know how far I could take my acting. Outside the world of Kabuki, I'm in contact with different types of people and scripts, and everything I learn from them and from acting can be used to improve my Kabuki skills. When I'm in a TV or film production, in my heart, I know that my life is really in Kabuki.
has a long history, and actors have to follow strict forms and rules passed down from one generation to the next. But after we master those traditions, we can ignore the customary kata
forms and show our own personality. That really stimulates the audience, and that's the type of actor I want to be."