Kabuki musical performed outside Japan for first time
Musical combining kabuki & Buddhist chanting to be performed outside Japan for first time tonight at Esplanade
He is only 22, but Japanese kabuki actor Kotaro Nakamura is taking the leading role in the Suntory Hall theatrical production Himiko: Memories Of The Sun Goddess.
Nakamura is an onnagata - the Japanese term for men who play women characters in kabuki theatre - and he plays the sun goddess Himiko.
Suntory Hall is Tokyo's first hall built exclusively for concerts. Himiko, which debuted in 2014, is part of Esplanade's Super Japan, an ongoing festival of Japanese arts.
Himiko has been staged in Tokyo, Sapporo and Fukuoka. Singapore will be its first overseas destination.
Tonight will be your only chance to watch this unique show that tells the story of the mythological Himiko, the avatar of the sun goddess, and her birth, life and resurrection.
It has a beautiful fusion of different musical and dance elements from East and West, kabuki and shomyo (Japanese Buddhist chanting).
The New Paper met performers including Nakamura, and Himiko's composer-conductor Yoshihiro Kanno at a rehearsal.
MYTHICAL: Buddhist monks (back row) are among Himiko's shomyo chorus. PHOTO: TNP
There are about 80 people in the crew, about 70 of whom are from Japan.
Nakamura said: "There's a lot of staff running about (before performances), but we are always on time."
His self-applied white make-up is a mixture of face paint and generic make-up products like blush.
He went from taking an hour initially to 15 minutes at his fastest. On average, he needs only 20 minutes.
His elaborate costumes have about three layers - white inner-wear, white robes and a red or yellow coat - and he has a wig that has hair reaching to his calves.
It can take five to 10 minutes to put on everything, with the help of four or five people.
Despite that, Nakamura is always punctual for his performances.
"We are traditionally craftsmen," he said.
A man of many talents, he not only performs as Himiko, but also gives artistic direction in areas of costumes and lighting.
Other performers include Buddhist monk Haruo Yamamoto, 52, who is part of the shomyo chorus.
He said: "We read the chants to add rhythm and melody.
"We memorise the chants because we cannot misread something. It'll be completely wrong."
While Mr Yamamoto does not have a pre-show routine, he said: "Back in normal life, we try to settle our hearts by meditating."
Mr Kanno, 62, when asked about any crazy behind-the-scenes anecdotes, said: "This entire idea (of combining so many different elements) is a little crazy itself."
GODDESS: Kotaro Nakamura, who plays Himiko, applying his own make-up and donning his elaborate costume with the help of production crew. TNP PHOTOS: JEREMY LONG
Himiko: Memories Of The Sun Goddess
Esplanade Concert Hall