Tamasaburo Bando, as a male actor specializing in female roles, has created his own unique world with his performances in Kabuki and established his position as the leading actor of female roles, although not born into a Kabuki family. He is also an internationally active performer in various genres of performing arts and holds countless audiences spellbound with his unsurpassed artistry.
Sakurahime Azuma Bunsho (The Scarlet Princess of Edo) Princess Sakura
Narukami (Thunder God) Princess Taema
Sukeroku Yukari no Edo Zakura (Flower of Edo) Agemaki
Meiboku Sendai Hagi (The Disputed Succession) Masaoka
Dannoura Kabuto Gunki (The Courtesan Akoya) Akoya
Sagi Musume (The Heron Maiden) Spirit of the Heron
Tenshu Monogatari (The Castle Tower) Princess Tomi
Tamasaburo Bando, although not born into a distinguished family of the Kabuki world, has virtually become the tate oyama, or leading actor of female roles, in today’s Kabuki scene. The range of his activities is not limited to Kabuki and he has contributed to other genres of performing arts with great distinction as well.
As a Kabuki actor, in 1969 Tamasaburo was selected to play the role of Princess Shiranui in Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki (The Moon Like a Drawn Bow), a shinsaku (newly-created) Kabuki drama by Yukio Mishima. The following year he captured the spotlight for his performance as Omiwa in Imoseyama Onna Teikin Goten (At the Palace on Mount Mikasa from The Teachings for Women). Since that time, he has established his position as tate oyama by taking on the personae of Masaoka in Meiboku Sendai Hagi (The Disputed Succession), Sadaka in Imoseyama Onna Teikin Yama no Dan (The Mountain Scene from The Teachings for Women), and Tonase in Kanadehon Chushingura (The Treasury of the Forty-Seven Loyal Retainers). He has also created his own unique world with his performances in Sakurahime Azuma Bunsho (The Scarlet Princess of Edo) and Osome Hisamatsu Ukina no Yomiuri (The Scandalous Love of Osome and Hisamatsu) by Namboku Tsuruya. At the same time, Tamasaburo has also been actively involved in other genres of theater. In 1975, he collaborated with the shimpa (new school) in Kyoka Izumi’s Keiko Ogi co-starring Yaeko Mizutani I, and played the role of Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the following year. In 1981, he appeared in Curlew River, an opera written by Benjamin Britten based on the Noh play Sumida-gawa (The Sumida River). In 1984, he was invited to represent Japan in the Metropolitan Opera Centennial Gala, sharing the spotlight with such stellar performers as chanson singer Yves Montand, ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, and opera singer Plácido Domingo. His performance of Sagi Musume (The Heron Maiden) attracted worldwide attention.
In 1988, Tamasaburo appeared in Sawako Ariyoshi’s Furu Amerika ni Sode wa Nurasaji (The Cloistered Flower of Yamato Protects Her Kimono Sleeve from the Alien Rain), which was premiered by the Bungakuza Theatre Company starring Haruko Sugimura. In 1997, he played the leading role in Junji Kinoshita’s drama Yuzuru (The Twilight Heron), and in 2007 he gave marathon performances of Kyoka Izumi’s works for an entire month under his own supervision and direction – the first such event at Tokyo’s Kabuki-za Theater. Meanwhile, he has also been an internationally active performer in various genres; he participated in Béjart’s Ballet Gala (choreographed by Maurice Béjart) in 1988, starred in Nastasja (script and direction by Andrzej Wajda) in 1989, and shared the stage with ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1998. Most recently, he went to China to participate in the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater in Jiangsu Province, playing the lead role in their Kunqu opera, The Peony Pavilion, in Beijing in 2008. Tamasaburo is without peer—based on his female Kabuki roles (onnagata), he makes a multifaceted world come alive in numerous different performing arts, and continues to hold countless audiences spellbound with his unsurpassed artistry. He is also an acclaimed film director and actor, and has performed alongside the Japanese taiko drum ensemble Kodo.
For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2011 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to Tamasaburo Bando.
Today, I would like to talk about how I became involved in the performing arts.
Let me begin by sharing my thoughts on “acting.” As a child, I would often behave like someone else, imitate others, or become some other person according to how I interpreted the impression that he or she had made on me. I think that this was my main motivator to “act.” However, at that stage, I had no desire to become a professional actor. When I succeeded to the name of Tamasaburo Bando V at the age of 14, my foster father told me, “From today on, you will be a professional.” It was at that point that I first realized that I would become a professional actor. To be a professional, one needs to learn about the historical processes through which the craft has passed to arrive at today’s contemporary style of acting. In other words, a professional must know how a certain form of acting has changed through each distinctive period attaining the form in which we know it today. And, to become an onnagata, or an actor who plays female roles, one must master kabu ongyoku, or Japanese music and dance, among other things. To be a good Kabuki actor, it is also important to be able to recite lines as if one were singing. Kabuki actors need to be able to play musical instruments too. Moreover, they must have mastered proper manners so that they can effectively represent, in a professional manner, the classical lifestyles that one often sees in Kabuki plays originally created in the Edo period (1603-1868). And, of course, Kabuki actors are required to learn about stage settings, costumes, hairdressing, makeup styles, and the historical background of each play, so that they know how to play the role in a manner that chimes with the milieu of the time.
However, when you come right down to it, one might say that the very essence of actors and actresses in general and, indeed, the original craft of acting is to behave as if you were a different person and – although impossible in reality – to feel that you have become someone other than yourself and can step into different places and time periods. I did not have a clear understanding of this concept in my younger years; rather I came to learn it after I was given opportunities to perform in front of audiences as a professional. That said, isn’t it the case that what we actors present to the audience through our performances on stage is not our own acting but a world that lies far beyond the performance itself? I believe it important that the audience comes to feel illusions, ideals, and imaginings through the theatrical space.
I also believe that to become what your imagination creates as you act is to become something that is not yourself, which can then develop into a state where you vanish from this world to become free and something that is beyond merely human, or to become assimilated into space, a scent, or a part of nature. My interpretation of the performing arts is something that originates in childhood play – be part of the flow of water, a cherry tree, perhaps a frog, and then a monkey – but gradually becomes more sophisticated, such as being able to express a literary idea or something that is culturally profound. In addition to what I have described thus far, I believe that the single most important goal from both my perspective and that of the audience in viewing a work of art is to fly out of the everyday and allow one’s soul to wander freely.
I will be discussing these matters from various perspectives, including the fundamentals of acting and characters.