The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
What is a Kabuki furitsuke-shi?   Interviewed Fujima Kanjuro VIII
Recently there have been theater directors like Ninagawa Yukio who have created a lot of interest by directing Kabuki.
In the Kabuki world, the furitsuke-shi is only one of the backstage people, and my policy is that we should remain backstage and never come out in the spotlight. It is enough for me if I can just help the actors look better. The important thing is to be trusted, by the actors, the producer, the musicians and the stage people; to be a person that they know will help to bring things together. There is nothing that says the actors have to come to me for choreography. If they don’t trust me and believe in my work, they will stop coming to me.
In the real professional world, age and name have no meaning. It all depends on your achievements. I succeeded to the Kanjuro name on the 13th anniversary of my grandfather’s death. But, jobs don’t come to me just because I am now the head of the Fujima school of traditional Nihon buyo. Although my mother and I are the only two who are called furitsuke-shi for Kabuki dance, there are plenty of other masters of Nihon buyo, and if I don’t deliver with good choreography, the actors can go to other people.
You can’t give proper direction out there on a Kabuki stage unless you have complete knowledge of Kabuki, and I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but I did an awful lot of studying to get where I am now. From middle school I was studying Nagauta recitation, shamisen and Japanese tsuzumi drum and I was allowed the privilege of performing with the musicians at the Kabuki-za theater in the misuuchi (musician’s pit on the right of the stage). Performing there I learned to see things from the standpoint of the nagauta vocalists and I made many friends among the musicians.

There must be a lot of pressure for someone taking on such important responsibilities at such a young age as you have.
The greatest stress reliever for me is writing my own scripts and performing the lead role in them (laughs). I have friends in Nagauta, Kiyomoto (musical accompanists) and Narimono, so I can get them to perform for me the way I want. No one complains about things and no compromises have to be made. That is pure ecstasy.

I have heard that in March you will be teaching Kabuki dance to theater students in France.
This time it is theater students, so I would like to teach them things that they might be useful to them later on stage, like the gestures we use for drinking rice wine in traditional Japanese dance, how we use a cloth to express the movement of waves and how we use a fan.
Two of the basics of Nihon buyo are the way the pelvis is set in the basic stance (with bent knees) and walking style where the feet slide along the floor. This is a walking style that makes Japanese look good when wearing a kimono. The movement of the hem of a kimono looks awful if you walk with big strides. In order to walk in the smooth, sliding style that looks good with kimono, you have to bend slightly at the hips and keep the knees bent slightly. To learn these buyo movements, it is necessary that the students wear kimono and Japanese tabi footwear. We will also teach them how to wear the kimono and how to fold them.

You are also the head of the Fujima school of Nihon buyo (traditional Japanese dance). Even though a lot of people study Nihon buyo, it seems that the only ones who actually go to see performance are the Nihon buyo students and there is almost no general audience enjoying this dance as an art. What do you think will be necessary to increase the audience of Nihon buyo fans.
Nihon buyo is a form of dance that has evolved within the context of uniquely Japanese aesthetics. That is why there are a lot of things that Japanese audiences will find beauty in when watching it. There are techniques for simple actions like opening the hand that make the hand itself look thinner and more beautiful, and in the way you stand there are half-turned poses that make a person look more slender. These may be simple things, but there are a lot of techniques like this that have been developed over the centuries. These are things that we have to pass on to the next century, and I think that I am one of the people in a position to carry on this task.
There is an image of the traditional arts as old and uninteresting, but both Kabuki and buyo are entertainment arts that have survived because of the audience, so there must be aspects to them that are interesting to watch. These are not arts that are so sophisticated that only an educated elite can enjoy. In the Nihon buyo world lately there have been people who try to put on more radical performances using accompaniment by synthesizer or guitar or the like, but I don’t think that is the right direction to go.
In fact, I did a performance a year ago in Osaka with six young buyo dancers. We wanted to make it a show that would really excite the audience, so we did a dance using crested formal hakama skirts and using quick-change technique. We changed the hair styles and the colors of the crested hakama and we were pouring sweat from the exertion, but the audience loved it. Since Nihon buyo was born out of Kabuki, I want to borrow more of the strengths of Kabuki to make Nihon buyo more interesting. I will continue to place great importance on my work in Kabuki, but at the same time I want to bring more attention to the possibilities of Nihon buyo as an art.
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