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May. 16, 2016
Japan Topics
Director Yukio Ninagawa Passes Away
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of the internationally acclaimed theater director Yukio Ninagawa at a hospital in Tokyo at 1:25 p.m. on May 12, 2016 due to multiple organ failure related to pneumonia. He was 80 years of age. During a prolonged bought with illness, Ninagawa continued to direct from a wheelchair and wearing an oxygen breathing apparatus until December of last year, when he was hospitalized with a light case of pneumonia. In February, his weakened condition force the cancellation of a planned production of a new play about the director’s life titled Nina’s Cotton (written by Takahiro Fujita), and eventually he would never be able to return to his work in theater.
The late Ninagawa’s career began with “Angura” (underground) theater and ranged to directing commercial theater with works that consistently addressed the issues confronting society, at times vividly portraying the extreme energy of society’s forgotten common people in spectacular productions with large casts and often sordid stage art employing metaphoric symbols of the era involved, such as mirrors or water-covered stages that created powerfully dramatic spaces. The productions Ninagawa directed in his long career totaled about 120 works. He devoted much of his career to working with young actors, staff and playwrights, thus forwarding the careers of many emerging theater-makers. Also, as director of the Sainokuni Saitama Arts Theater, Ninagawa’s “Saitama Gold Theater” project for elderly actors over the age of 55 became a social phenomenon in its search for new approaches to theater focused mainly on personal histories.

Yukio Ninagawa Profile
Born in Saitama Pref. Ninagawa joined the theater company Gekidan Seihai in 1955 and following activities as an actor he founded the company Gekidan Gendaijin Gekijo in 1967. Made his debut as a theater director the next year with a production of Shinjo afururu keihakusa by Kunio Shimizu. In 1972, he founded the theater unit Sakura-sha with the playwright Kunio Shimizu and others. Ninagawa drew attention as a leader of Japan’s small-theater of the 1960s and ’70s, and as a flag-bearer of which he challenged society with plays by Shimizu that agitated the status quo of the times. In 1974, Ninagawa became active as a commercial theater director with the Nissay Theater production of Romeo and Juliet. After that, the late Ninagawa continued to be one of Japan’s representative theater directors, working with Japan’s playwrights for long years to present creative productions portraying the energy of society’s forgotten common people with dynamic symbolism, directing large casts and using intense and often sordid stage art. He also staged adaptations of Shakespeare with localized settings. In 1983, he took to Greece for the first time a production of Medea starring Mikijiro Hira as Medea and with art direction by Jusaburo Tsujimura. After that, Ninagawa would stage numerous overseas productions. His career involved particularly close ties with the United Kingdom, beginning with his first production there in 1985 of NINAGAWA Macbeth, which would be followed by almost yearly UK productions and result in his being awarded the status of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE, third class) in 2002.
From 1984 to 2008, Ninagawa led the Geki-sha Ninagawa Studio (name changed to Ninagawa Studio in 2004) based in a space named Benisan Pit created in an abandoned factory, from which he worked with young actors and staff to make creative small-theater works, and over the year turned out many works of experimental theater while nurturing the careers of many theater-makers.
In 1999, Ninagawa was appointed artistic director of the Bunkamura Theater Cocoon, and in 2006 he became artistic director of Sainokuni Saitama Arts Theater. There he undertook a long-term project to stage all of the works of William Shakespeare as well as launching the Saitama Gold Theater project for people over 55 years of age that sought new approaches to theater based on personal histories. In 2009, he launched the Saitama Next Theater project for the purpose of nurturing the careers of young actors by mounting productions of new works in ways that carried on his unique philosophy of theater. In these ways the late Ninagawa continued to take on ambitious new challenges throughout his life.
As a director, Ninagawa concentrated particularly on the works of Shakespeare, Chekov, the Greek tragedies and Japanese playwrights Kunio Shimizu, Juro Kara, Shuji Terayama, Matsuyo Akimoto, Hisashi Inoue and others. His career was also devoted to working with young playwrights of the different generations. As a director Ninagawa was also the recipient of many awards.
+Performing Arts Network Japan’s interviews about Ninagawa
What is the kabuki version of NINAGAWA Twelfth Night? Yukio Ninagawa’s new challenge (2005)
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Ninagawa interview abut his new theatrical venture of confronting the realities of common peoples’ history with the elderly and young people (2009)
Another key part of the Ninagawa world: interview with stage artist Tsukasa Nakagoshi (2014)