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Kabuki Actor Interview: Keizo Otani (Part1)

NPO Samurai Meetups caught up with Keizo Otani(大谷桂三), a Kabuki actor, to interview him in depth about the wonders of Kabuki(歌舞伎). This interview will allow you to get a direct insight into Kabuki by hearing straight from the horse’s mouth, and is a must read for Kabuki enthusiasts, those who have an interest in Kabuki, or those currently learning the craft. 

This article is split into two parts, so be sure to check out part 2 as well!

Q. For those looking to discover Kabuki, there is the impression that Kabuki can be difficult to access. Would you be able to tell us about how one can discover and enjoy Kabuki as a newcomer?

Kabuki is above all something that can be enjoyed casually, and it is my wish for many people to come and enjoy Kabuki

Kabuki has become a high status art from Kabuki actors and Kimono wearers becoming prominent and highly respected nationwide. While the art of acting brings respect, it does not beget a sense of self superiority. Rather than trying to appreciate Kabuki as a form of high-brow art, it is better to appreciate the acting with a freer and relaxed mindset. I would add that it is best to enjoy Kabuki without disturbing other audience members as a matter of courtesy. You may hear certain audience members shout out at certain intervals during a Kabuki play, but there is no need to pay undue attention to this.

An important aspect of Kabuki – the presence of “Gidayu”

When watching Kabuki, one thing I would like audience members to notice is the “Gidayu(義太夫)”. For newcomers to Kabuki, you may wonder what these “Gidayu” people are doing. If one compares Kabuki to opera, these “Gidayu” would be the orchestra. They will often make sounds to accompany the feelings of the characters within the scene. For example, if there is a scene where a woman experiences heartbreak and cries out, the Gidayu will shout “chin chi chin!” melodically, while the female character crawls on her knees while crying, and adds a further expression of tragedy to the scene. The Gidayu’s role is often to portray feelings that cannot be expressed by the character’s words alone, to add depth to the story.

How to spot the changes in character roles by the same actor

There are situations where more than one character role is played by the same actor. There are even many Japanese people who do not notice this. In Kabuki, roles can be split into two, three or seven different characters. Therefore there can be characters who were on the “hanamachi” (a stage area where there is a path close to the audience) and then appear from a different area. If you are able to spot who is playing the characters and where somebody plays different characters, you can enjoy Kabuki from a different perspective.

Q. I’m surprised that some actors play more than one role. Isn’t it difficult to quickly change outfits during the performance?

Until now I have played ten different roles

When playing various different roles, changing outfits quickly has to be well practiced. It is also important to embrace the different character that one is playing. For example, one may change from a male to a female character, and the acting must change accordingly.

Q. I see, so it’s definitely interesting to witness the acting skills of those playing more than one character.

It is not only the play content, but also choosing the appropriate actors for the roles that is a pleasure within Kabuki

Yes, I believe that there is not only the enjoyment of the play, but also finding actors that one appreciates them and seeing how they interpret the role. The role can be quite different depending on who plays the role, and witnessing these different interpretations can also be another fascinating aspect of Kabuki.

This interview introduced Kabuki and how to appreciate it, with the views of Keizo Otani. We hope that this interview article was illuminating for you. While Kabuki can seem like quite a high brow art form, we hope that this article made Kabuki more appealing an accessible. We sincerely hope you can enjoy Kabuki while also taking note of the points mentioned by Keizo Otani in this article, to further appreciate the beauty of Kabuki. Don't miss part 2

Kabuki Actor – Keizo Otani Profile

Born in Ginza on June 11, Showa 25. His mother was a master of the Kiyomoto (a type of Shamisen), and grew up listening to the songs of Haruhisa Yuru. He became familiar with Kabuki along with his two older brothers. His first Kabuki role was at the age of just 4, at the Shimbashi Maikai, where he played the role of Ryotaro Yumutaro, at the Onogami Kikugoro Theater Company’s New Year Kabuki Performance. He has been active in a wide range of fields both on television and the stage as a result of the training which he has accumulated since his involvement in Kabuki from childhood, and is busy with various activities both public and private.

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