enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館



The Shinkokugeki (新国劇) troupe was founded by Sawada Shojiro with the aim of providing a new form of theatre as an alternative to “kabuki”. Having enrolled in Waseda University in 1910, Sawada became involved in the “shingeki” (新劇; new drama) movement, but after clashing with actress Matsui Sumako, he decided to split and form his own troupe. In April 1917, he founded Shinkokugeki in Tokyo’s Shintomiza theatre. The troupe failed commercially. Sawada attempted a relaunch at Kyoto’s Minamiza but here, too, the troupe failed to attract audiences. Shinkokugeki’s fortunes then improved; the troupe won acclaim for its performance at Kadoza theatre in Dotonbori, Osaka. The audience was particularly impressed by the dynamic swordplay. In 1921, the troupe made a comeback in Tokyo. Sawada’s renown spread across Japan, along with the realistic swordplay with which he was associated. Sawada’s swordplay was a decisive factor in the rise of “chanbara” – the swashbuckling samurai dramas that featured in Japanese cinema and popular theatre.

On 3 March 1929, Sawada died suddenly, aged only 36. The loss of its head plunged the Shinkokugeki into a period of crisis, but the troupe selected Shimada Shogo and Tatsumi Ryutaro as its leaders, and the selection paid off. Shimada and Tatsumi took on the troupe’s popular plays; Shimada adopted “Shirano Benjuro” (白野弁十郎) and “Kutsukake Tokijiro” (沓掛時次郎), while Tatsumi adopted “Kunisada Chuji” (国定忠治), “Tsukigata Hanpeita” (月形半平太), and “Daibosatsu Toge” (大菩薩峠). They also developed new dramas that became the troupe’s representative works, including “Mabuta no Haha” (瞼の母) and “Osho” (王将).

However, with its male-dominated cast and audiences, Shinkokugeki struggled to attract new audiences. In the late 1960s, it fell into financial difficulties and finally went bankrupt in 1979. In 1987, the troupe reassembled for a special performance to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Shinkokugeki’s founding. On the 7th of September of the same year, the troupe announced that it would return the name Shinkokugeki to the Sawada family. In effect, the members were declaring that they were disbanding. Thus, the history of the Shinkokugeki troupe – which had achieved such popularity in its time that its very name became synonymous with the name of a genre in dramatic art – finally came to an end. However, the narratives from many of their plays live on in films, popular songs, and “engei” (popular entertainment).

Note: On the panels, as for the order of the name of the Japanese person, their family name is written first, and then their given name.