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Kabuki Actor Interview: Keizo Otani (Part2)

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 1 as well!

Q. For the non-Japanese people reading this interview article, is there anything you would like to mention that they should look out for in Kabuki?

Within the plays scripts, I would recommend looking for expressions of Japanese values

Firstly, you will notice expressions of how the Japanese view life and death. A long time ago in Japan, it was said that parent child relationships are in one incarnation, married couples are in two incarnations, and master and slaves were the three incarnations. What this means is that parents and children are only of the current incarnation, and when reborn, are related to different people. Married couples cross two incarnations –the previous and the current (sometimes if one is not able to marry one’s love in one generation, they can fall in love and be together in the next). Master and slave relationships cross three incarnations –previous, current and the next. There are many scenes within Kabuki that demonstrate the strength of the master slave relationships.

Also, there are different mannerisms and points to consider when compared to western plays. In western plays, often the director is king. This is based on the fact that western societies were hunting nations, and in order to manage groups, an absolute leader was necessary. In Japan, while there is someone who summarises and makes a decision, decisions are more made by learning from each other. Decisions are often made by discussions and consensus, by taking into account others’opinions. While there are alpha leader types, the general approach is only to make decisions once taking into account the opinions of others. Kabuki works in the same way, by performing and devising the play through a process of considering the needs and opinions of others.

Q. While there are various Kabuki plays, which one would you recommend for a first time viewer?

It is recommended to view a well known Kabuki play that has been loved by many over a long period of time

Kabuki actors are all striving to make it into the big time with the well known plays. There are several scenes in Kabuki which test the acting skill and versatility of the actors. If their performances are not popular, they will no longer play that role. In general, the main path for actors was to play the same role for three years. Yoshitune Senbonzakura(義経千本桜) is one of the such well known plays. Kabuki plays are originally based on true to life and historical events as well as within the context of real history. By adapting the stories and character names, the Kabuki plays become works of fiction based on a non-fiction background. I would like people to see these types of Kabuki that still remain today. If you catch one at the right time, it will be an amazing souvenir of Japan to remember.

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 1

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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