Kabuki great Ichikawa Danjuro XII passed away two days ago. The cause of death was pneumonia. He was 66.
Danjuro XII's death comes two months after the death at age 57 of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII, another towering figure of kabuki's revival and transformation. These two greats have passed away in what are the years normally spent training the next generation of actors. The brothers and sons of these two men will have to carry on their program of expanding the reach of the tradition through their brilliant performances as guides -- but without the lights and wills that heretofore guided the expansion.
The deaths of two giants withing such a brief span of time also casts a shadow of superstition over the demolitions and rebuilding of the Kabukiza. The latest iteration of the building will enter into service with a curse.
Actors and actresses of the stage and screen have entered politics but with uneven success. Screen lightweights Aoshima Yukio, Morita Kensaku and Higashikokubaru Hideo have all become governors, for example. Ishihara Shintaro's career as a political maverick has been boosted by the public relations savvy and drawing power of the "Ishihara Army" -- the stable of handsome actors managed by the agency founded by Shintaro's brother, screen superstar Ishihara Yujiro.
However, the wattage of the stage and cinema lights has not translated into power in Japanese parliamentary politics -- a disconnect that should concern Ishihara and Higashikokubaru, who are both now members of the House of Representatives. No actor has ever been close to a top-level government job, nor held the top job itself, as has been the case in the United States and the Philippines.
Former hoofer Ogi Chikage seems to risen the highest. She served out the second half of her last term as president of the House of Councillors, kicking tails whenever she felt it worth her while.
Kabuki actors, however, have had a particular role in parliamentary politics as party attractions. The presence of a kabuki actor at these formalized festivities gave the wretched affairs some pizazz, without the star power of the actors upstaging the important business of politics. Danjuro XII was a fixture in the political world, with the patron-client-friend relationship bringing benefits to both. It is not surprising that former prime ministers Mori Yoshiro and Koizumi Jun'ichiro paid their respects at the Ishikawa home yesterday.
I have never been to an adult kabuki performance (Children's outdoor kabuki is another story). I thought at first that I had missed a chance to see either of the two recently departed greats in person.
Then I remembered that I had seen Danjuro XII once -- at a fundraising party for Kosaka Kenji in 2007.
I did not have a camera capable of capturing an image from across a vast, dark hall of the great one delivering his humble address, Mr. and Mrs. Kosaka standing stiffly to his right.
My only personal memory is a blur.