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Student Reports

‘Hamlet’ by 13 year old Somegoro, a student studying abroad felt the acting power of Kabuki actors

Impressed by the magical force that separates the roles

Waseda Weekly Reporter (SJC Student Staff)
School of International Liberal Studies,  fourth-year student, Rachel Sherman

SJC Student Staff since May 2018. She enjoys playing guitar, playing ocarina, singing and composing music. She belongs to an authorized music circle.

Hello everyone. Are you familiar with Kabuki? It is an ancient Japanese art form, dating back to the 17th century. It`s been around for so long that its influence has seeped into not only Japanese art forms, but those from overseas as well.

Kabuki is an art form in which male actors perform every character (including women) as part of drama-like plays, and utilize a variety of dance-like movements to characterize and capture both humans and animals. In the past, women used to perform dance dramas (where Kabuki gets its name), however the nature of the drama has changed. Instead of props, a variety of dance-like motions are utilized to give the impression of the object actually being there (for example, the motion of sewing or folding a cloth).

Many kabuki actors are born under a hereditary system that allows them to rise to fame on stage after training from a young age. It has been the custom that only actors born under Kabuki acting families can perform on stage; however it seems that recently the trend has been changing.

Kabuki is especially popular in Japan for this reason because fans share a personal connection with their favorite actor, as they can go see their favorite actor perform throughout their entire life and watch them grow and develop. That makes it especially exciting when a new face comes into a family, as a new star, or favorite, is born.

So I had the special honor of seeing the young and charming 13 year old (born into the Koshiro family), both grandfather and father lifelong Kabuki performers and film stars and also an actor himself, read aloud Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ on stage (in a video) in one of his first live appearances.

Matsumoto Koshiro (right) and Ichikawa Somegoro

My knowledge on Kabuki cannot compare to those who spend their lives following their favorite Kabuki performers, however, my interest in pantomime (acting out the essence of objects, animals, and human activities) and my experience writing stories and performing them (as a voice actress) has allowed me to look at his performance through a lens of appreciation. The difficult Japanese prevented me from gleaning direct meaning from all of the incredible moments offered by this young man, but I have gathered some impressions of moments from his performance I would like to share with you.

The sound of an adult man reached my ears, echoing throughout the auditorium. I was shocked to see, coming from the rigidly standing 13 year old, the voice of Fortinbras with all the character, charisma, power and threatening authority booming out of the body of this innocent-looking 13 year old boy. I was so surprised by the believability of this act that I was convinced there must be another person out of sight on stage, reading these lines. But then I realized that the voice was his, my ears and eyes were not lying; and in fact, he was performing Fortinbras. I was immediately shocked and amazed at his talent. But that only made me wonder, where was his voice, was there another representation of this young man as himself?

Soon, the child transformed into Hamlet, and I heard something closer suited to his figure before me. Perhaps this was a true representation of the young man as himself, as I could only believe, from the pure, innocent tone of voice and his honest uncertainty radiating from this child; it was delivered in such a way that made me feel as if this was his very soul before me.

During the talk show, it soon became apparent why there were so many female fans seated around me in the audience. I was presented with the voice of a boy whose handsome figure combined with a kind of cute, gangly awkwardness instinctively calls female fans to adore him. It was interesting to see his equally charming father seated to the right of him, exuding similar quirky mannerisms. It seems he has a variety of interests, from making his own video games to an interest in history.

I understood that from the talk show, Somegoro indeed exuded a sense of uncertainty. When asked how he felt about performing the piece, he said (translated from Japanese) that said he didn`t feel so great (confident) about it, and was not sure if he could do it. However, when asked which parts he would like to play, he responded, all of them! It seems he has far to come until he develops his own voice and confidence, however, I am sure that with time and practice, Claudius` booming voice will one day equally become him. It seems this young actor has a bright future before him.

I have been impressed by the incredible craft of this young actor and inspired by the magical ability of Kabuki actors to harness and represent the essence and truest parts of many different kinds of people and personalities, and it seems that Somegoro’s talent and ability is present. With also a new book detailing the young actor, it seems he has a bright future ahead of him.

I hope I have piqued your interest in this wonderful Japanese theatre art form, and also in the life and performance of this young actor. By all means, please come see one of his next performances, and look into Kabuki on your own!

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