'Popular theater' to make debut in Osaka's Kita districtApril 6, 2013
[Hirosato Nishida / The Yomiuri Shimbun]
OSAKA--Taishu engeki, popular stage performances of human dramas, as well as dances by beautiful female impersonators in kimono, will have a new home at a former movie theater in Osaka's Kita entertainment district.
The theater is being refurbished by Teruhisa Yamazaki, 65, who operates Ikeda Gofukuza, a similar theater in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture. His latest venue will open in May and be christened Umeda Gofukuza.
The theater will seat 245 people in an atmosphere reminiscent of the Edo period (1603-1867) with paper lanterns and banners as part of the decor. Hoping to attract female office workers at the end of their workday, performances will begin at 6 p.m. and cost only 2,000 yen--about the same as a movie. "I want to create a theme park of stage performances in an urban area," Yamazaki said.
The origin of taishu engeki is said to be associated with kabuki and dates back to the Edo period. It is usually performed in smaller venues, allowing the audience a more intimate bond with the performers. After shows, cast members meet with the audience, who treat them like pop idols.
Taishu engeki is also known as "tabi shibai," or stage performances by traveling troupes. These troupes were formed during the Meiji era (1868-1912) by local people who performed "village kabuki" in farming villages. Others were established by performers who were less-than-successful in large theater groups. Both performed across the country.
They used elements such as traditional music and choreographed swordplay to distinguish themselves from other troupes.
Their popularity waned as TV became widespread. However, it was revived by Tomio Umezawa, 62, and others in the 1980s. Umezawa, who was acclaimed for performing women's roles, was known for his beauty and elegance and nicknamed "Tamasaburo of downtown" after the popular kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo.
Currently, about 150 troupes tour at 40 theaters and other places across Japan, with runs of about one month at each. About 90 percent of the audience are women. Recently, 21-year-old Taichi Saotome and other young actors have become popular among high school girls.
Engeki Graph, a magazine covering the genre, began publication in 2000. According to the publisher, Masayuki Kanno, circulation was initially about 2,000, but is now about 13,000.
"After shows, performers are willing to shake hands with the audience and pose for photos," Kanno said. "They are similar to the AKB48 pop group as idols you can meet personally, but with a much longer history."
Osaka Prefecture is home to 11 theaters for taishu engeki. A new theater, one of the largest in the country, opened in front of Kyobashi Station last autumn. Another one is scheduled to open in the Juso district in April.
According to Yamane Engeisha, an Osaka-based company that coordinates troupes and theaters, audiences numbers have been on the rise in recent years and hit about 300,000 in the prefecture last year.