Nakamura Kanzaburo, who died on 5 December at the age of 57 of acute respiratory distress syndrome, was a Kabuki actor who helped boost the popularity of the traditional Japanese art form. One of Japan's most famous contemporary kabuki actors, Kanzaburo also acted in film, television and stage dramas.
Kanzaburo, whose real name was Noriaki Namino, was born in Tokyo on 30 May 1955, the first son of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII. He was the 18th in the line of Nakamura Kanzaburo and could trace his ancestry within the Nakamuraya kabuki guild back to his great-great-great grandfathers, if not further. Both his grandfathers were kabuki actors, as were their fathers.
He made his debut in 1959 at the age of three, and went on to win fame both as a tachiyaku, or male actor, and an onnagata, or female impersonator. As both actor and director, he strove to attract younger audiences to kabuki plays. To this end he staged performances in 1994 at a theatre in Tokyo's Shibuya district, an area popular with the city's young people, and also founded the Heisei Nakamuraza theatre company in 2000.
At Theatre Cocoon in Shibuya the dramas were topical, created with a young audience in mind, and set to modern music. The Heisei Nakamuraza troupe, meanwhile, a 100-strong all-male company, has been celebrated for productions that respect the rich heritage of kabuki while pulsating with an energy and humour that recall the form's early days in the 17th century.
In July, Kanzaburo underwent successful surgery for oesophageal cancer but later caught pneumonia.