Monday, March 2, 2009

Pure Acting--Kabuki Actor Nakamura Matagoro Dies at 94

Matagoro sensei has died.

I had the great good fortune (as did several of us) to spend a year training with Matagoro sensei in what is still one of the best years of my theatrical life.

What I remember most clearly was the day, after class, when Russell and Elizabeth had questions about their scene together as Heimon and Okaru and the emotions involved as Heimon tells Okaru about Kampei's death.

There were several of us there, sitting next to Matagoro in the dance studio at the University of Hawai'i, as he started to explain the scene.  Then he said, "Here, let me show you." and without a moment's hesitation he launched into the scene, acting both parts with full emotional intensity.  It was an incredible performance, unlike any I had ever seen before or since.  Here was a true artist working at the very height of his powers and his talents.  It was pure acting without relying on props, or costumes, or stage setting to carry the scene but doing so entirely with his acting.  And when the scene was finished, he smiled and asked, in a calm matter-of-fact tone, "Do you understand now?"

I have seen many great performances (granted, mostly on film) by some of the world's greatest actors, but nothing has ever equaled the sheer skill and artistry I saw that morning.

Kabuki has lost a great artist, and we from outside the kabuki world of Japan have lost a true friend who supported our quest to better understand this art form not just as scholars but more importantly as fellow artists.

The march of time was bound to bring this day, but the reality of it still hits hard.
Matagoro sensei (seated) along with Nakamura Matashiro and Yamada Isuzu on the occasion of her visit while on her way back to Japan.  Yamada san  had stopped at the University of Hawaii to pay her respects to Matagoro and ended up conducting an impromptu make-up demonstration and then staying to watch our rehearsal of the kabuki play Chushingura. 

Yamada Isuzu is an actor of some renown -- she played the part of Lady Macbeth in Akira Kurosawa's film The Throne of Blood.

Nakamura Matagoro in the role of the Shogun in Hiroshi Inagaki's 1962 film Chushingura.