enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館

Chapter 6: Shimpa Today(新派展)

Finding Avant-gardness in Shimpa Dramas

Chapter 6: Shimpa Today

Has the shimpa genre earned its place in the contemporary landscape of theatre in Japan which has increasingly become diverse and fragmented? With its glory days long past, it may be difficult to ascertain the proper role of shimpa.

Here, we introduce a few aspects of the present-day shimpa, a theatre form which has remained alive from the Meiji era.

Having inherited “actress shimpa” created by Mizutani Yaeko I, and centred on Mizutani Yaeko II and Namino Kuriko, the current generation, in keeping shimpa alive, has moved their home from stages at large venues such as the Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre (新橋演舞場) and Meijiza (明治座) to mid-sized venues such as the Mitsukoshi Theater. It appears to be characteristic of the 21st century that artists frequently guesting from the realms of kabuki, shingeki (新劇; new theatre), and shinkokugeki (新国劇; new national theatre) are being replaced by the ranks of modern theatre actors. Apart from inheriting classical masterpieces, the domestic dramas of shimpa have also been modernised through various productions staged by television producer Ishii Fukuko and film director Yamada Yoji.

During Heisei 30 (2018), shimpa reached a milestone, marking 130 years since its founding. But even before that, shimpa was in the process of transformation.

Ichikawa Tsukinosuke (formerly Danjiro), a kabuki actor who was a disciple of Ichikawa Ennosuke III, transferred to the Gekidan Shimpa (劇団新派) and assumed the name Kitamura Rokuro II, resurrecting the famed name for the first time in 55 years. Ichikawa Shunen, who was an onnagata of the Omodakaya guild (澤瀉屋), also changed his name to Kawai Yukinojo and entered the world of shimpa. We should celebrate the fact that the close connection long held between kabuki and shimpa has been re-established.

It was against this backdrop that attempts were made to dramatise the detective novels of Edogawa Rampo and Yokomizo Seishi, creating an unusual new form of theatre. This may be considered the unveiling of an alternative aspect of shimpa.