Kabuki kids continue family tradition
Six decades after Masato Doi and Mitsuo Akiyama performed in a 1941 University of Hawaiʻi kabuki production, their names appeared together again on a university theatre playbill. Taking the stage, however, were their grandsons Christopher Masato Doi and Daniel Mitsuo Akiyama, who appeared in Kennedy Theatre’s spring 2004 production Nozaki Village.
"Kabuki in Japan is a family affair. Great actors pass their names on to their children so they can continue the acting line. It was fun to imagine that my grandfather had passed the baton on to me," says Doi. Both he and Akiyama included their middle names in the program to honor their namesakes.
"My grandfather wasn’t really a 'theatre person' in college," says Akiyama. "He basically did Namu Amida Butsu for the academic credit. As far as I know that was his last theatrical experience. Yet 63 years later, here I am, planning a career in the theatre arts."
One of the show’s four takemono, or narrators, Akiyama got his first taste of kabuki acting in Kennedy Theatre’s 2000 production The Summer Festival: A Mirror of Osaka. Fellow theatre major Doi saw the play and vowed to get involved in the next kabuki production.
"Kabuki is a fascinating and richly layered art form, and I enjoy its liveliness and sensuality," explains Akiyama. "I especially like how you find beauty in the smallest detail—the opening of an umbrella, the unfolding of a letter—and then, five minutes later, you are plunged into a scene of great spectacle and sensory overload, with so many things are happening at once you don’t know where to look or listen."
In Mānoa’s world-renowned Asian Theatre Program, students learn directly from visiting master teachers. For eight long months, Nozaki actors were immersed in all aspects of kabuki training, from how to speak and move, to musical accompaniment, to costuming.
"Makeup alone took me about two hours, and getting dressed took another half hour," says Doi, who played leading man Hisamatsu, a young lover who promises himself to two women. Actors first learned the entire play phonetically in Japanese. Five months in, they began rehearsing with English translations 25-30 hours a week. The sense that the show was improving kept them going, Doi says.
Masato Doi, credited with "superb acting" in the 1941 Kapalapala yearbook, was able to applaud his grandson’s performance in person. Unable to attend but equally proud, Mitsuo Akiyama passed away May 28 in Hilo.
Nozaki Village was Mānoa’s latest production in 80 years of English-language kabuki performance. The Asian Theatre Program is also known for its expertise in Chinese and South/Southeast Asia theatre.