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Kabuki Star Nakamura Kanzaburo Loses Battle with Cancer

Nakamura Kanzaburo, whose real name was Noriaki Namino, died Wednesday from acute respiratory distress. The popular film, TV, and stage drama actor was 57 years old. The Tokyo-born actor was the first son of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII and started his kabuki days in 1959 at an early age of 3 as the fifth Nakamura Kankuro. He succeeded his father in a name-succession ceremony known as “shimue”, becoming Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII.

Kanzaburo quickly became known for his outstanding skills both as a “tachiyaku” male actor and an “onnagata” female impersonator. He possessed a desire to keep the kabuki art alive among the young people. He performed at the Theater Cocoon in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, where plays address a younger audience and were set to modern music. He also founded the Heisei Nakamuraza troupe composed of 100 all-male members that, while respected kabuki’s traditions, were bursting with energy and humor that call to mind the early days of the art itself, way back in the 17th century.

Last June, Kanzaburo revealed to the public that he suffered from esophageal cancer. Since then, he had undergone surgery and was getting treated. He has two sons, Nakamura Kankuro VI and Shichinosuke II, who are both kabuki actors. Kanzaburo received in 2008 the Medal with Purple Ribbon, an award from the Japanese government for accomplishment in the fields of arts, sports, and education.