Kikugoro III (1784-1849) was one of the most talented actors of his age. He was adopted into the Onoe lineage of actors and made his debut at the age of four under the name Onoe Eisaburo I. After playing the parts of young men, he assumed the name of his adoptive father in 1809, becoming Onoe Matsusuke II. In 1814 he became Onoe Baiko, and a year later his reputation was such that he became the first actor for almost 30 years to succeed to the Kikugoro name, becoming Onoe Kikugoro III (although he retained the name Baiko to sign his poetry). He became head of the company (zagashira) at Edo’s Miyako theatre in 1817, after which his reputation grew for arrogance and feuding (particularly with his rival Danjuro VII). All too conscious of his own good looks, he was apparently narcissistic and difficult.
He is perhaps best remembered for the frisson of his appearances with his rival Danjuro VII, and for his alliance with the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV, who in 1825 wrote for him the role of Oiwa in Tokaido yotsuya kaidan, the best known of Kabuki ghost plays. Besides playing vengeful ghosts, Kikugoro’s specialities included adolescent males (wakashugata) and older wise men (jitsugoto), but his range also extended to villains (katakiyaku) and female roles (onnagata). He was acclaimed as an all-round actor, or ‘man of a thousand faces’ (kaneru ykusha), and his ability for the miraculously quick changes (hayagawari) so popular in the Bunka-Bunsei eras (1804-30), allowed him to play seven to nine roles in one play.
He made the first of several retirements in 1837, but returned to the stage in 1839. Before his 1847 retirement he appeared in Onoe Kikugoro Ichidai Banashi, a play that showcased his talent for ghost roles. He then opened a rice-cake shop, but was back on stage in 1848, on tour to Nagoya and Osaka. He died on his way back to Edo.
Organised for Japan 2001
The Fitzwilliam Museum is especially grateful to John Carpenter, Tim Clark, Paul M. Griffith, Hideyuki Iwata and Ellis Tinios for their generous help during the preparation of this exhibition.
Funded by Japan 2001