Charismatic Actors and Devout Audiences: Kabuki Meets Anime in Super Kabuki II

Yuki Ohsawa, Otaru University of Commerce [About | Email]

Volume 23, Issue 3 (Article 10 in 2023). First published in ejcjs on 30 January 2024.


Kabuki in the Edo period (1600-1868) readily achieved a communal atmosphere and up-to-the-minute relevance, that is, a connection to the everyday lives of common people. However, for the last century and a half, it has steadily grown more ossified and distant from all but a limited number of connoisseurs, who enjoy it for its almost highbrow evocation of an irrecoverable popular past. In view of the very slow traditional pace and antiquated language, Ennosuke III believed that kabuki had become less meaningful for modern people. Ennosuke IV’s Super-Kabuki was an attempt to return the contemporary kabuki theatre to its roots as a collective dramatic form that can truly be considered popular culture. This article traces the strategies used by some 21st-century kabuki troupes to recapture its original appeal. The following questions are addressed: how did Edo-period kabuki incorporate its audience into performances; how was that characteristic lost over time; and how have today’s kabuki troupes reinvented audience participation? What is the effect of combining contemporary popular culture products such as anime, manga, and J-pop songs with a traditional popular culture form like kabuki, long considered a relic of the past?
This article argues that Ennosuke IV’s real innovation in One Piece was deepening the engagement and participation of the audience by introducing some elements into the play that are completely modern with other elements that are strongly reminiscent of traditional religious ritual.

Keywords: Kabuki, Super Kabuki, audience participation, popular culture, One Piece, Ennosuke IV, manga, anime, ritual


It was extremely shocking news all over Japan on May 17, 2023, that a famous and popular kabuki actor, Takahiko Kinoshi (stage name, Ichikawa Ennosuke IV) not only tried to commit suicide, but also assisted his parents to commit suicide, in family shame and anticipation of a weekly magazine’s expose about Ennosuke IV’s power and sexual harassments. According to Kinoshi, after he realised that the harassment article will be published, he had a meeting with his parents, and they all decided to commit suicide together. His parents died, but he survived the attempt. As a result, he was arrested and charged with assisting his parents to commit suicide. His trial is scheduled to begin on October 20, 2023.
Firstly and importantly, this paper can neither support nor condemn Takahiko Kinoshi (Ennouske IV)’s actions regarding the accusations of harassment or regarding the suicides. It is the role of the Japanese court to do that. But it is important to note that if Kinoshi is found guilty of any of these crimes, the traditional inherited stage name “Ennosuke” might not be passed on to next generations of kabuki actors and could effectively die. Furthermore, the particular kabuki form, “Super Kabuki,” innovated by Ennosuke III and IV and extremely popular among kabuki fans, will likely disappear. Thus, the aim of this paper is to record the development of this Super Kabuki and Ennosuke IV’s involvement in it, considering the strong possibility of it never being shown again.
Kabuki actor Ennosuke IV, dressed as a popular anime character but wearing traditional kabuki make-up, soared on wires high above the stage, singing a J-pop song, while below him the audience of adoring fans stood up at their seats, shaking specially purchased tambourines, dancing along to the music, and waving at Ennosuke IV and at each other. This lively scene epitomises the communal character of kabuki, a popular culture theatrical form that works properly only when the audience becomes a part of the performance. Whereas kabuki in the Edo period (1600-1868) effortlessly achieved a communal atmosphere and up-to-the-minute relevance, for the last century and a half it has steadily grown more apparently ossified and more distant from all but a limited number of connoisseurs, who enjoy it for its almost highbrow evocation of an irrecoverable popular past. Ennosuke’s Super-Kabuki is an attempt to return the contemporary kabuki theatre to its roots as a collective dramatic form that can truly be considered popular culture. This article traces the strategies used by some 21st century kabuki troupes to recapture its original appeal, addressing the following questions: How did Edo-period kabuki incorporate its audience into performances; how was that characteristic lost over time; and how have today’s kabuki troupes reinvented audience participation? What is the effect of combining contemporary popular culture products such as anime, manga, and J-pop songs with kabuki, long considered a relic of the past? While drawing on the popular culture of the moment, how do Super-Kabuki’s attempts to update the form make use of symbols and experiences associated with long-established religio-social communal rituals such as Shinto festivals? And finally, what is the future of “fusion” kabuki that mixes the traditional with the contemporary?
For hundreds of years, kabuki theatre has been a central part of popular culture. As with other forms of pop culture, kabuki was about common people and their lives and interests, including historical drama and moral stories. Unlike Noh theatre for the upper classes, kabuki was also performed in the common dialects of the time. Kabuki’s relevance to the lives of common people remained largely unchanged until the Meiji period, when Westernisation began to occur. Japan began to change very quickly in the second half of the 19th century (the first 30 years of the Meiji period).  Great social and cultural shifts and changes in popular cultures, especially visual culture, were occurring at a rate that made one generation look and behave very differently from the preceding one. This was true by the end of the 19th century, but accelerated with the changes in the 20th century. Kabuki’s status had started to change even as early as that time, and with all the exponential changes in the 20th century, had lost most of its resonance with common people by the beginning of the 21st century, except as a concretised form that people—mostly older audiences—enjoyed for its evocation of the past.
Kabuki could not keep up with these incredible changes. Like other traditional art forms, kabuki has always been learned by rote and by staying as close as possible to the example of the previous generation’s masters. Being “traditional,” to these art forms changes generally come slowly. By the 1980s, kabuki, with its centuries-old story lines and spoken dialect, was clearly less meaningful to modern, urban Japanese people. The Japanese language used was hundreds of years out-of-date, and incomprehensible to most contemporary Japanese ears. Unlike shingeki, which earlier had incorporated Western-style, modern realism and performances, and unlike underground performances which challenged contemporary norms, kabuki did neither and had stayed close to its original form. As a result, audience engagement (and attendance), which had been slowly eroding since the beginning of the Meiji period, had reached a critically low level. Popular culture in the latter half of the 20th century was being expressed more in the forms of manga, anime, boy-bands, and fashion.
Responding to this audience disengagement, the theatre group “Super Kabuki” emerged in 1986, introducing a new genre in order to make traditional kabuki more accessible for contemporary audiences, by combining new scripts, fast action, and modern stage technology with traditional kabuki techniques. The later group, “Super Kabuki II,” made even further steps toward the renewed popularisation of kabuki in 2015-17 by incorporating Japanese popular culture such as the extraordinarily popular manga One Piece, and by collaborating with the well-known J-pop singing duo, Yuzu. In a time of ever-increasing globalisation and cultural cross-pollination, Super Kabuki II mainly tried to preserve the local Japanese nature of kabuki, with its manga storyline and traditional kabuki male casts, makeup, stage acting conventions, sound effects, and so on.
The innovations that were used by Super Kabuki II’s lead actor and director, Ennosuke IV, included the collaborative combination of the traditional and the contemporary. Although the source material from the manga and anime One Piece and the accompanying songs were entirely contemporary, many aspects of the production were traditional, especially those related to staging, the actors’ appearance, and delivery. Ennosuke IV and his Super Kabuki II performed One Piece in 2015-2016, and the entire run was very successful, garnering about one-tenth of the total kabuki audience numbers for those years. [1]
Ennosuke IV’s use of contemporary stories and music was part of the reason for his success. He seems to have understood that audience engagement (in the narrower sense of “interest”) is deepened, not only by material that is familiar to contemporary audiences, but also by audience participation (in a more physical sense). This participation could be strengthened even more by group ritual behaviours between charismatic actors and devout fans, and between the audience members themselves. Ennosuke IV also seems to have understood a longing in his Japanese audiences for these kinds of group rituals, and understood that they would deepen participation, and so engagement.

Edo-period Kabuki as Popular Culture

Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama which was started and became popular among townspeople in the Edo period (1603-1868). The root of the term, kabuku, indicates a strange appearance or unreasonable behaviour. [2] Kabuki has experienced periods of epoch transformation—even from the early-to-mid-Edo period, kabuki styles were changed by order of the shogunate, the military government which ruled in the Emperor’s stead. The earliest kabuki performances typically involved female actors, but under directives from the shogunate, women were soon banned—this led to the creation of one of kabuki’s most notable character/performer styles, that of the onnagata, male actors who specialised in playing female roles. Kabuki began as, and remained, an entertainment for the common people, as opposed to, for example, Noh, which was an upper-class entertainment. Kabuki presented stories about the common people to the common people, and thus was a form of popular culture. While austerity decrees by some Shoguns occasionally dimmed its brilliance, in general kabuki was a flamboyant and sensationalist theatrical form. Kabuki had a huge influence on the townspeople’s lives, and became a central cultural commodity, especially in the first half of the 19th century. [3] Because kabuki was exciting and became an outlet for the townspeople’s everyday stresses, it became the preeminent form of popular culture among them. [4] After its preeminence in the Edo period, kabuki theatre attempted to maintain its popularity and relevance in the face of rapid modernisation and the rise of wave after wave of mass entertainment media technologies such as cinema, radio, television, and the Internet. Kabuki troupes tried to absorb these new influences, and to respond to events of the moment such as wars and government policy, but with diminishing success. By the post-World War Two period, kabuki was no longer a popular culture form, but rather a relic of the past, still enjoyed by many people, but not because of any contemporary popular references or resonance with people’s everyday lives.
A legacy characteristic of kabuki, to the present, is the way different families form different acting companies (troupes). Family members pass on and take on stage names as they become more skilled and respected, and consequently become directors and main actors of those different companies. Each family/company has its own eponymous style and its own repertoire of shows. The names, styles, and plays can often pass from generation to generation, and the actors and styles can be more popular than the plays themselves, especially if the storylines of the plays are already well-known to the audiences. (Interestingly, another legacy characteristic is that all roles are still played by men, at least in the majority of troupes.)

Audience Participation

Jacom Raz examined audience participation in the history of Japanese theatres including kabuki in “Audience and Actors—A Study of their Interaction in the Japanese Traditional Theatre” (1983). According to Raz and other scholars, it has been noted that the kabuki-odori (kabuki dance) of Okuni, who started kabuki in Edo period, was “the first case in Japanese theatre in which the popular, dynamic odori [dance] rather than the slow, solemn mai type of dance was shown on stage.” [5] Kabuki was the first theatre that successfully developed a mass audience, and the targeted audience were commoners, not the elite. Because of kabuki’s popularity through the Edo period, the stage was often crowded with spectators, and the management kept letting more people in. Audience members were allowed to sit backstage and behind the actors [6] and were even allowed to eat, drink, and shout kakegoe (a loud call from the audience at specified times in the play, in order to express their appreciation of the performance, often performed by a trained claque seated in the audience). [7] The spectators were already a part of the play, whether or not they wanted to be. In other words, whatever the spectators were doing during the play became a part of the kabuki play itself.
Audience actions were not the only thing that established their participation in the play. Because of their seating positions, the audience members often literally shared the stage with the actors. Raz examined the works of the artists who illustrated or depicted kabuki theatre and then argued that “for the artists of the time [Edo period], who used the theatre as material for their prints, poems, and plays, there was no question of separation or distinction between the stage and the audience. We have seen that even the physical distinction between ‘stage’ and ‘auditorium’ was unclear.” [8] From his research, the kabuki audience was already an integral physical part of the theatrical event in the Edo period.
Even the structure of the kabuki theatre blurs the boundary between the actors and the spectators. The best example of this is the hanamichi (a kind of runway perpendicular from the stage), which “ran [from] the rear stage-right side of the doma (where its entrance was marked by a curtain), passed through the audience and joined the edge of the stage at stage-right.” [9] Being an extension of the stage into the audience, the hanamichi allows the audience to feel that they also are in the play. In fact, the audience who sit closest to the hanamichi are usually seen by other audience members as clearly as the actors are seen. The situation and structure of the physical kabuki theatre itself encouraged audience participation, even in the Edo period and since then.
However, during the Meiji period, the relationship between the actors and the audience was changed because of strong Westernisation. Raz pointed out that one of the essential reasons for the change of the audience-player relationships was the Westernisation of the physical theatre-house, such as Western-style seats, an enlarged stage, and the disappearance of the forestage. [10] In 1889, the modernised theatre “Kabuki-za” was built following the Western style. [11]

After the 1923 earthquake all the re-built theatres had proscenium arches, drop curtains, and Western seats. Architects, managers, and designers thus took the actor further and further away from his audience; the unique foundations on which communication was performed in the kabuki theatre were persistently removed and replaced by new arrangements, most of them brought in from outside. [12]

Although the change of structure of the theatre had a strong impact on the audience-performer relationships, the audience were still allowed to participate in some way.
Although strained, the audience-player relationships were not entirely broken. Super Kabuki was an attempt to restore that relationship.

Evolution of Kabuki: Super Kabuki

An important evolutionary step for kabuki was the establishment of “Super Kabuki,” the acting company and the style. Super Kabuki was born because modern audiences were not satisfied with stories about the Edo period and, being central to popular culture in Japan, kabuki needed to entertain the modern audience. Super Kabuki, through its combination of new scripts, fast action, and blending of modern stage technology with traditional kabuki techniques, found ways to be more engaging for contemporary audiences.
Ichikawa Ennosuke III (a kabuki actor now called Ichikawa En-ō) started creating Super Kabuki in the 1980s. In the book “Super Kabuki,” Ennosuke III explained how Super Kabuki was derived from traditional kabuki. According to him, traditional kabuki, which started in the Edo period, has a wonderful aesthetic sense, and tremendous concepts of dramaturgy and performance skill; however, its stories are based on an Edo period point of view and moral sense. These points of view, he argued, no longer resonated with modern people’s hearts. A sign of this need for evolution had already come at the end of the Meiji period (the early 20th century), when “Shin-Kabuki” (New Kabuki) was created. Its stories were devised in order to attract modern audiences. Although Shin-Kabuki took on new trends of realism in its performance styles, it lacked music and dance, which are essential features of kabuki. [13] Generally, Shin-Kabuki failed to attract a wide audience.
As a result, Ennosuke III became eager to create a form even newer than Shin-Kabuki, able to keep traditional musicality and visual features such as dance, unique posing (mie), [14] and make-up (kumadori), [15] but adding thematic stories that could resonate with modern audiences. [16] In 1986, the first Super-Kabuki program that included Ennosuke III’s ideas was Yamato Takeru. [17] The program was very successful, as it attracted not only female kabuki fans but also men and people who did not usually watch kabuki; [18] the number of subscribers for this first program in 1986 and 1988 was 550,000 people. [19] Ennosuke III created a total of nine Super Kabuki programs from 1986 to 2003. After this, Ennosuke III adopted the name “En-ō,” and his nephew took over the name “Ennosuke,” to become Ennosuke IV in 2012, inheriting the company and style of Super Kabuki.
Ennosuke IV began to concentrate on how to make kabuki even more meaningful and engaging for modern audiences. He realised that audience participation was key.

Development of Super Kabuki II

In 2012, Kinoshi Takahiko (1975 - ) assumed that stage name “Ennosuke IV,” having grown up and having been trained in a traditional kabuki family system. His father Ichikawa Danshirō IV and uncle Ichikawa Ennosuke III were also very famous and important kabuki actors. This name, Ennosuke, is one of the stage names which has been passed down between generations of kabuki actors in that family. Once an actor receives an inherited stage name, he also holds great honour and feels a responsibility to live up to that name.
Ichikawa Ennosuke IV did that by developing “Super Kabuki II,” the company and the style. His goal was to engage contemporary audiences in a greater way than previous styles had. Ennosuke IV seemed to understand that the deepest kind of audience engagement was audience participation. Engagement could mean that the audience is simply very interested in the story, but participation was a much deeper kind of engagement on the part of the audience, and encouraged a deeper relationship between the audience and the actors.
His first decision was related to repertoire and source materials. He chose one of the most popular manga and anime series in modern Japanese history, One Piece.

One Piece

Ennosuke IV’s first program was “Sora wo kizamu mono (The man who carves/chops the sky)” [20] in 2014. The second program was “One Piece.” That program was released in 2015, but was rearranged and run in the 2015-18 seasons. This was the program that brought radical changes to kabuki.
The manga series, One Piece, was written by Oda Eiichirō and began on July 22, 1997 in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. It had grown into 97 volumes by September, 2020. [21] By 2017, there were 430 million total issues in circulation. [22] In fact, One Piece was awarded a Guinness world record for the “Most Copies Published for The Same Comic Book Series by A Single Author” in 2015. [23] This manga series was adapted into a TV anime series, which has aired since 1999 in Japan. It is on-going and has become one of the most popular and well-known manga and anime stories in contemporary Japan.
In brief, the story of One Piece is that the male protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy, journeys with his crew of pirates, meeting and acquiring new friends and crew members along the way. As his dream is to become the Pirate King, he sets off with his crew of pirates on a journey to seek out the world’s ultimate treasure, which is known as One Piece. Their adventure is continuing. It is a classic “quest” tale.
Super Kabuki II adopted one of the biggest and most memorable story arcs, the “Battle of Marineford.” A short summary: Ace, Luffy’s step brother, was imprisoned in the underwater prison, Impel Down, because his biological father was Gol D. Roger, who was the legendary Pirate King in the Golden Age of Pirates. Luffy went to the underwater prison to rescue Ace; however, Luffy could not rescue his step-brother and was himself poisoned and almost died at Impel Down. While Luffy had difficulties, Ace now was sent to Marineford. Luffy’s crew helped Luffy to escape from the prison and also set other prisoners free. Then, Luffy and his crew headed to Marineford to try to rescue Ace again by fighting with the entirety of Marine Headquarters. This battle was one of the biggest and most momentous fights in this story, and most of the kabuki audience members would have been familiar with it in some way.
The story shows the strong bonds between brothers (Luffy and Ace), between a father-like master and a disciple-like son (Whitebeard and Ace), between master and pupil (Whitebeard and his other followers), as well as strong friendships between Luffy and other characters. The bond between Luffy and Ace, and the bond between Whitebeard and the pupils, were especially beautifully and dramatically performed in the play. However, female characters were completely absent from those most important scenes, because the story of One Piece (manga and anime) targets boys. The protagonist is male and most of his peers and enemies are also male. Generally speaking, most boy’s manga illustrate a boy/male character as a protagonist and the other key characters are also male, although One Piece is very popular among girls as well. In fact, diverse people came and enjoyed the Super Kabuki II One Piece play in 2015. [24]
Super Kabuki II One Piece received tremendous public attention because this was a collaboration between traditional kabuki and the most popular manga series in contemporary Japan. The performance was designed in order to be easily accepted by any audience. It used contemporary Japanese language, not the old language of the Edo era. The characters’ costumes were adapted from the original anime work, so that the audience could easily understand which actor played which character. Some characters’ costumes were kimono, as is typical for kabuki, but with similarities in colour and design to the iconic clothing in the anime. Because the makeup was based on the traditional kabuki style, with a white foundation and kumadori, but featuring painted-on wounds associated with the original anime character, the audience could still accept the kabuki actors as One Piece characters.
Super Kabuki II took the story of One Piece but did not try to mimic the world of One Piece as it was illustrated in manga or especially in anime. For example, the voices of the kabuki actors were lower than the anime characters’ voices. In the anime version, because the character Luffy is still a young boy whose voice hasn’t broken yet, Luffy’s voice actor is Tanaka Mayumi, a middle-aged woman. Super Kabuki’s Ennosuke IV is an adult male, so his voice obviously gave maturity to his enactment of the character. Also, in the anime series, Luffy speaks in a unique tone and locution; however, Ennosuke IV did not mimic them, although he intentionally included Luffy’s signature phrases. That is, Super Kabuki II produced a unique but recognisable version of the world of One Piece.
Furthermore, the performance used fairly sophisticated methods, such as projection mapping, to show each character’s fighting technique, [25] or used visual and sound effects to create a fantasy on the stage. The play looked like a modern play rather than classical kabuki; however, the play still retained many kabuki elements, such as the unique kabuki makeup, the way of enunciating words, the unique background sounds, and so on. Ennosuke IV’s play gave the audience both experiences: kabuki and a modern play. His choice of source material meant that the audience was already engaged with a familiar story.

Sound And Music

Integrating the most popular and representative manga series, One Piece, and a classical dance-drama, kabuki, was considered radical. At the same time, it was a risky challenge because One Piece had already established a large fan base and attracted much attention in Japanese society. In other words, this new amalgamation of popular culture and kabuki could not fall short of the audience’s expectations if it were to have artistic and popular success. Ennosuke IV seems to have understood this challenge and known that adapting the most popular manga story would not be enough to produce a new successful program.
Kabuki was the leading edge of entertainment for the masses in the Edo period, and we may characterise it as representing that era’s pop music. In later eras, kabuki didn’t adapt to drastically changing cultural styles, but remained anchored in the music, sounds, performance techniques, and aesthetics of the Edo era. As we have seen, kabuki was almost completely outdated and moribund in the post-war period, so Ennosuke IV’s decision to bring contemporary popular music to Super Kabuki II was a radical one.
Thus, he asked for help from Kitagawa Yujin, a member of the Japanese folk-rock duo, “Yuzu.” These performers have been a very popular group since the mid ’90s in Japan, and Ennosuke IV clearly stated that he envied the fact that the entire audience at Yuzu concerts participated in their live performances. [26] Ennosuke IV was eager to create an opportunity for Super Kabuki II audiences to stand up in their seats and do something with the actors. Kitagawa wrote a new song for Ennosuke IV’s new program, Super Kabuki II One Piece. [27] The title of the song is “Tetote,” which literarily means “hand and hand.” Its musical structure and sound were not classical kabuki music at all, but pop music. The audience could easily sing along with the actors. This song created a totally different atmosphere from the classical kabuki, but helped create an integrated feeling within the modern theatre, responsive to contemporary musical tastes and expectations.
Various background sounds have always been a central element of traditional kabuki. Basically, there are two types of sounds—one type is geza ongaku, [28] which means sound effects, and the other one is shosa ongaku, [29] which is a musical accompaniment to dancing scenes. [30] The most notable and unique sound is tsuke. Tsuke utilises wooden clappers with a wooden board to create the sounds of the actor’s footfalls, or to add emphasis and exaggeration to the actors’ actions. This sound effect is used in virtually every kabuki play, and is one effect directly related to the narrative technique. [31] Furthermore, hitting wooden clappers against each other with an ever-increasing pace signals the start or the end of the play, [32] and other important moments. In addition, the musicians in the kabuki performance play traditional Japanese instruments [33] to make dancing music, background music, and even onomatopoeia. Because this music uses traditional instruments, the sound establishes a nostalgic feeling that does not much affect a modern audience. However, Super Kabuki II used both traditional instruments to create unique kabuki sounds, and, at the same time, played contemporary popular music and its familiar sounds from the house speakers. 21st century J-pop allowed not only kabuki fans but also One Piece fans to enjoy this new style of kabuki. The pop melodies and rhythms, together with the use of the electric instruments, as well as the simple lyrics paired with a strong message, all created excitement in the audience and evoked a very particular mood. Using this pop music was an innovative decision that helped remove the gap that had developed over time between the kabuki actors and the modern audience. As a result, the audience could more easily interact with the actors.
Furthermore, Super Kabuki II provided an opportunity for the charismatic actors and the audience to dance together, something new to kabuki. Before the performance began, many of the audience bought a special tambourine at the theatre shop to use. During a specific scene, not only the stage but also the seats in the theatre were brightly lit, so everyone in the theatre could see each other. The audience could stand up and dance with the actors who danced on the stage, and together shake the tambourines and sing. Some of the actors also came down to the seats and danced and sang with the audience. Even the main characters who were dancing on the stage did “high fives” with the audience seated in the first row.
In spite of this greater interaction in Super Kabuki II, it should be noted that these two groups—the actors and the audience—were never fully equal. Group ritual played a role in this relationship. The charismatic actors unexpectedly “came down” to some portion of the audience, who “praised” the actors; these audience members got “luck” from the charisma of the performers. This is one key component of the ritual which existed in this modern-day kabuki: the transference of energy, luck, or benefit from the performers, who enacted a benevolent role in the ritual equation, to the audience, who enacted a receptive and grateful role. Although the audience members seated on the third floor looked down at the charismatic exchange and felt some amount of distance from the actors, they were still involved in the group ritual, because when they were ringing the tambourines/bells, the entire audience were also encouraged to dance and sing “Tetote” along with the kabuki actors.
The kabuki actors and the audience dancing together already looked like a group ritual; however, I argue that the role of the tambourines, because of their bells, is more significant. The tambourines have metal disks to make bell sounds; this creates a sound similar to that of the bells that shrine maidens use during shrine rituals. The role of the bells at a shrine is to purify the visitors and ask the gods to come down, attracting them by the ringing sounds. [34] During part of the Super Kabuki II performance, the audience was encouraged to create the sounds of the bells with the tambourines at a specific part of the play. I believe these sounds to be reminiscent of the Shinto religious ritual inviting the gods to come down to us. This ritualistic element cannot help but enhance the audience’s engagement. [35]


Water has always been used in traditional kabuki. Using honmizu (real water) to create a river, pond, or well on stage is a long-time presentation method in traditional kabuki theatre. Super Kabuki II used water in a more spectacular way which enhanced the engagement of its audience.
At one point in the play, there was a fight scene between good and bad characters, though the protagonist did not appear in the scene. The fight scene actually took place under a huge, running waterfall. This was one of the most powerful stage sets in the kabuki theatre. The terraced waterfall required 10 tons of water, [36] which was recirculated. Such a large-scale waterfall was previously very rare because of the requirement for either pumps or an enormous amount of water.  Super Kabuki II, however, made very effective use of technology to develop the latest and most innovative styles, and this waterfall was a good example.
The actors fought in it, intentionally splashing the water onto each other and even onto the audience. Whenever the villains were thrown by the good characters, they created an enormous water splash which was very beautiful on the stage. The most effective point of this waterfall was that many audience members in the first-floor seats were splashed with the water, and the other audience members could also feel the mist or moisture in the room. In other words, the whole seating area was sprayed, misted, or at least humidified by the water splashed by the actors.
In traditional Japanese belief systems, the function of purification is extremely important as a prerequisite for most types of ritual behaviour or communication. Shinto priests purify altars, fields, homes, even sumo wrestling rings, using a variety of materials, such as salt (which represents sea water), sake, or water. In the Shinto religion, water in particular can remove impurities. There are many rituals that use water for purification. Generally, there is a requirement at any Shinto shrine symbolically to purify one’s hands and mouth with water before entering the Shrine precincts and communicating with the gods. There is also the example of misogi-gyo (purification ritual)—pouring cold water over one’s own body during winter/cold weather to purify one’s body and soul. [37] It could be argued that this stage production of One Piece used water in a spectacular and wide-ranging way, representing a kind of misogi-gyo. Because most of the audience members felt either water or mist on their faces or hands, [38] the feeling of ritual purification could easily resonate in people who had done these rituals for so long in their culture. The Super Kabuki II actors seemed to be purifying not only themselves, but the audience as well, by splashing the water over them. This large-scale waterfall seemed to serve as a source of purification and unity between the soaking wet actors and the splashed audience. Other actors—good and bad characters as well as the audience—are all purified by the water before the subsequent scene when the protagonist, Ennosuke IV, comes physically close to and becomes a virtual part of the audience. This effect certainly livened up the play and by introducing a strong element of group ritual, and more deeply engaged an already excited audience.


Immediately after this scene with the waterfall, and therefore emphasising its function and the presence of ritual between the actors and the audience, the play provided the audience with its key goal or aim: the opportunity to stand up, dance, and ring out their tambourines with the actors, who were also dancing. Once the whole theatre was dancing and was full of bell sounds from the tambourines, the main character, Luffy, flew over the audience. This kabuki staging technique is called chūnori (mid-air performance). [39] Chūnori has been used in kabuki plays since the Edo period; however, chūnori had not been used for a long time in the modern repertoire. The technology used in traditional kabuki was very simple, lifting the actor somewhat above the stage. When kabuki actors in traditional plays used these mid-air chūnori, the actors were playing the characters of spirits, ghosts, or foxes—unrealistic and superhuman characters. When Ennosuke III revived this stage technique in the play “Yoshitsune Senbonzakura” in 1968, the audience responded quite favourably to what was then seen as a “novel” innovation. [40]
Ennosuke IV used very different and advanced high-wire technology to do chūnori, and to have his character Luffy fly over the audience. He was lifted and swung high over the theatre space, from the space just over the heads of those audience members on the floor area, to almost as high as those in the 3rd floor seats. He sang a pop song, and the audience sang along. He waved to his singing, tambourine-playing, energised audience, who were making bell-like noises and waving back at him, and at each other. He filled the entire space, while spotlights were not only on him (as in traditional kabuki), but on the audience members as well, who in turn were interacting with not only the hero, but with each other.
This total process was the culmination of the group ritual itself, the highlight of the performance, and the very goal of the theatrical event, because the actors and the audience became so united at this point. The innovation we can see in Super Kabuki II is that chūnori was used to make the protagonist more of a charismatic/superhuman character, to allow this character to bond with his excited “followers,” and to deepen the connection between the actors and their audience. Chūnori in Super Kabuki II was not necessary in order to relate the One Piece story, but in order to create a special relationship between the audience and the charismatic/superhuman character Luffy. Therefore, chūnori became a part of the group ritual. Ennosuke IV had earlier mentioned that he wanted to create a section of the production where the audience could participate in the play and release their stress, like purifying their souls. [41] This scene with its ritual and climactic elements achieved that goal. Of additional interest is that chūnori also made the kabuki staging more like manga or anime, media which are rich with stretching or flying bodies. [42]
This group ritual really enhanced the protagonist as a charismatic character, in the sense of one who “inspires devotion in others.” Ennosuke IV has long been a very popular kabuki actor in Japan, and he was already a kind of charismatic figure among his fans. When Super Kabuki II One Piece ran between October 6 and November 25, 2017, Ennosuke IV broke his left arm during the play on October 9th, and another actor had to take over his role the next day. Onoe Ukon II, [43] who was only 25 years old at the time and was originally cast as Sadi and Marco, was chosen to take over the leading role to carry the program until the closing day of its run. Although Ukon II was less skilled and much less experienced an actor than Ennosuke IV, the ritual with waterfall/splashing, dancing with ringing bells, and the chūnori, emphatically made Ukon II a charismatic figure. The group ritual was obviously created not only by the leading actor but also all the people in the theatre—the actor-spectator relationship. Furthermore, Ennosuke IV was eager to make this program, One Piece, become one of the classic kabuki programs of the future, so he recognised that the program must succeed without himself, or without whoever might be the usual leading actor. [44] When Ukon II was on the stage in the protagonist role and made the program successful, it was proved that the ritual and the audience participation generated a charismatic figure. [45] Besides the excitement making the audience physically and mentally “purified,” the group ritual element also heightened the sense of unity.


After the One Piece run, I saw other attempts to replicate Ennosuke IV’s success with engaging the audience. One year after Super Kabuki II One Piece, a kabuki actor named Nakamura Shidō II collaborated with Hatsune Miku, a popular, virtual, computer-generated feminine singer that is actually an advanced visual hologram. Using this cutting-edge technology, he produced a style that was called "Chō-Kabuki" (beyond kabuki). The show was sometimes performed at a large convention centre, but the performance I attended was in a traditional kabuki playhouse. Most of the audience of the Chō-Kabuki were fans of Hatsune Miku—young males rather than the usual kabuki fans, who are females and usually middle aged or older. Like Super Kabuki II, Shidō II’s collaboration with Hatsune Miku also created something appealing to young people, who typically had never been interested in the traditional kabuki plays. The behaviour of the audience in Chō-Kabuki was very similar to that of a pop music concert where the audience can stand up, shake penlights in the darkness, and shout kakegoe to the performer. The space between actors and audience did seem to become united to a certain extent.
However, the level of audience participation in Chō-Kabuki was much less than that in Super Kabuki II. The storyline was less compelling. Much of the young male audience was there for the computer-generated female singer, more so than for the story or acting. The penlights in the hands of the audience were used off-cue and were distracting. When Shidō II encouraged the audience to dance with him, he was visibly disappointed because the audience was not as excited about the activity as he was. In fact, there was only one scene where the audience was encouraged to participate at all. The audience was engaged, but by only a few elements of Shidō II’s production. What that production lacked (as did another production of “Shinsaku Kabuki [New Kabuki] Nausicaa” [46] that I later saw) was the innovation of the earlier Super Kabuki II’s One Piece.
Ennosuke IV’s real innovation in One Piece was introducing elements strongly reminiscent of ritual into the play, in order to deepen the engagement and participation of the audience. Although most plays in the theatre, including traditional kabuki, cannot create a sense of unity to this same degree, Super Kabuki II One Piece succeeded in doing so because the group rituals never let the audience just watch the play, but required them to participate in its performance. These were ritual elements which the audience could never have experienced simply by consuming the manga or anime. The introduction of group ritual in Super Kabuki II originally grew from Ennosuke IV’s admiration for the folk duo, Yuzu, during their live concerts, when the performers had their audience singing and dancing together and creating an integrated feeling in the concert hall. Like anyone in the theatre profession, Ennosuke IV looked for ways to deepen the participation of the audience.
Even without rituals, Ennosuke IV had his audience participating in One Piece, because of the contemporary material and music. However, he used group rituals built around water, bell sounds, and singing (not dissimilar to chanting) in order to deepen the participation of his audience. Although these rituals are not Shinto ones, they resonated enough with an audience that had been raised with Shinto. This familiarity was one element of ritual that Ennosuke IV used in Super Kabuki II. He also used the space of the theatre, and the interaction and communicative waving of the flying protagonist to strengthen a ritualistic bond between the charismatic hero and his devout fans.
Another element of ritual that Super Kabuki II used very effectively was the sense of unity that is inherent in both Shinto festival group rituals, and in group relationships with charismatic figures. Like with any audience in theatre or sports, in entertainment or politics, part of the enjoyment of being part of an audience is sharing a sense of unity among strangers. As in many other urbanised societies, the Japanese people experience this feeling of unity far less often than in the days when the country was more agrarian. There are still many traditional religious and cultural festivals being celebrated in small towns or villages, but less so in the big cities. Many Japanese simply miss these festivals, especially those with spectacle, and miss their unifying effect on an audience. Humans are naturally social creatures. The sense of group ritual in Super Kabuki II was easily accepted and appreciated by the urban Japanese audience. Although Ennosuke IV perhaps never consciously intended to recreate Shinto space or rituals in the theatre, he seemed to have understood the longing for unity in his audience. The group rituals, which happened to resemble those enacted in Shinto spaces, could create a stronger relationship between a charismatic figure and the audience, and enhance the unity of the whole theatre.
Simple engagement can easily be achieved by an audience being interested in or familiar with a story, or by their enjoyment of the acting or music. However, the strongest kind of audience engagement involves audience participation. Super Kabuki used modern themes and stories, and modern technology to combine traditional and modern elements, thereby strengthening audience engagement to levels that were present in historical kabuki. Super Kabuki II took this process of deepening engagement one step further, by not only using contemporary material but also by deepening audience participation. Ennnosuke IV, having found what contemporary people wanted in the theatre, provided it to the audience, and in fact attracted new audiences. At the same time, Ennosuke IV revitalised kabuki by reminding it—and its audience—of its roots as a form of popular culture, as relevant as manga and anime. But it is this fact which allowed Super Kabuki II to attract kabuki fans and even non-kabuki fans. Super Kabuki II has created a revolution in contemporary Japanese theatre which helps it transcend the traditional to move toward the future.
As the rate of change in Japanese society and culture increases, it will certainly be interesting to watch kabuki’s adaptation to a changing environment, and how it uses contemporary visual culture such as manga and anime in order to tell contemporary stories. Ennosuke IV innovated traditional kabuki by combining it with modern methods and storytelling. However, his personal crime might end this Super Kabuki II.  Kabuki performances have always depended on main kabuki actors who have been trained since they are children. Thus, with Ennosuke’s possible conviction and disappearance, it would be hard to know if Super Sabuki itself will be back or if it will disappear with him. At the same time, each kabuki performance has reestablished and reinforced a form. Depending on how well Ennosuke IV trained his other kabuki performers, it is possible that they could play and develop Super Kabuki in the future.
Kabuki itself, with or without Ennosuke IV, should continue to fulfill its role of popular culture by exploring and providing what contemporary people crave. That is kabuki’s mission.


1. The total number of people who attended Super Kabuki II One Piece reached about 300,000 between 2015 to 2017, while the Kabuki-za—the principle kabuki theatre in Tokyo saw between 1 and 1.3 million audience members per year during that period. (“Onoe Ukon became Luffy! Double starring for Supper Kabuki II One Piece with Ennouske IV,” SPICE, March 30, 2018,; “Box-office revenue 14.6 billion yen! Kabuki’s unknown business model,” DIAMOND Online, September 17, 2016,

2. Atsuko Nagashima, Edo no kurosu doressātachi: sekushuaru mainoriti no rikai no tameni [Edo’s Transvestites: For understanding sexual minorities] (Tokyo: Bensei, 2017), 69.

3. Yukio Hattori, Kabuki no kōzō: dentō engeki no sōzō seishin [Structure of Kabuki] (Tokyo: Bensei shupan, 2017), 8.

4. According to Sejikenbunroku (Seji kenbunroku, [records of criticism on the society]), it was said that contemporary drama, kabuki, was not a parody of daily life, but rather the other way around: townspeople mimicked the lifestyles they saw in kabuki.
Yukio Hattori, Kabuki no kōzō: dentō engeki no sōzō seishin [Structure of Kabuki] (Tokyo: Bensei shupan, 2017), 8.

5. Jacom Raz, Audience and Actors (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1983), 145.

6. Ibid., 180.

7. Ibid., 179.
Kakegoe is a loud call from an audience member, timed precisely to coincide with the rhythm of the play, to express appreciation of the performance. Calling out from the audience needs skill, and is an active participation in a performance.

8. Jacom Raz, Audience and Actors (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1983), 181.

9. Ibid., 196.

10. Ibid., 216.

11. “Kabukiza no rekishi” [History of Kabuki-za], Shochiku, accessed January 8, 2021,

12. Jacom Raz, Audience and Actors (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1983), 219.

13. Ennosuke, Ichikawa, Sūpā kabuki: Monozukuri nōto [Super kabuki: the notes of creation] (Tokyo: Shueisha, 2003), 16-17.

14. Mie (見得) is a stop-motion pose that creates a scene of picture-like beauty or focuses on a character’s upsurge of emotion. It is the full-body Kabuki version of the cinematic “face-zoom-shot.” The purpose of mie-posing is to draw attention to a particularly important or powerful portion of the performance, because mie-posing is acted at the peak of the character’s emotions. The actor’s body pose, the movement of his head, his facial expression, specifically the movement of his eyes and his way of gazing, are all unique.

15. Kumadori (隈取り) is Kabuki style makeup. Red, blue or brown lines are drawn on white foundation. The lines are exaggerations of blood vessels or muscles. Each colour has a different meaning; red indicates a positive character such as a hero, and blue or brown signifies negative characters, such as a villain or a ghost.
Tsuji Kazuko, Kabuki no kaibozukan. [Detailed picture book of kabuki] (Tokyo: W-Knowledge, 2017), 50-51.

16. Ennosuke, Ichikawa, Sūpā kabuki: Monozukuri nōto [Super kabuki: the notes of creation] (Tokyo: Shueisha, 2003), 16-17.

17. Yamato Takeru is a legendary Japanese character. This Kabuki play showed the life of Yamato Takeru dramatically by using modern stage technologies, and a combination of traditional kabuki music with modern music, to create a spectacular stage show.

18. Usually Kabuki audiences these days are 90% female, but super-Kabuki had a 40% male audience.  Ennosuke, Ichikawa, Sūpā kabuki: Monozukuri nōto [Super kabuki: the notes of creation] (Tokyo: Shueisha, 2003), 43-44. 

19. Ibid., 43.

20. This kabuki play is a story about a young sculptor of Buddhist statues. The setting is in the time that Buddhism came to Japan, and the play includes themes such as “what is god,” “who is Buddha,” and “what does belief mean.”  

21. “One Piece,” Shonen JUMP official site, accessed December 30, 2020,
22. “One Piece Ruikei hakkobusu 4 oku 3000 manbu toppa! Luffy to onaji 5 oku mo shiyani” [One Piece Total issues in circulation went over 430 million!], Comic Natalie, accessed October 16, 2017,
23. “Luffy ga teni ireta sekai ichi no akashi One Piece to ginesu sekai kiroku” [The proof of the best in the world that Luffy got --- “One Piece” and Guinness World Record], Guinness World Record, June 15, 2015,

24. Most kabuki stories have been carried over since Edo period. In other words, younger people are not familiar with the old stories which were created under feudalistic ideas. In addition, the ticket prices are usually very expensive for them as the prices are about $100 to $200, although there are limited cheaper tickets available. Because of these reasons, kabuki was not attractive nor affordable entertainment for young audiences. The tickets for the Super Kabuki II were expensive, but because of the well-known story and characters, Super Kabuki II could draw a younger audience to the theatre.  In fact, at the press conference on July 25, 2017, Abiko Tadashi, who is a vice-president of Shochiku, announced that Super Kabuki II had in 2015 attracted a very diverse audience, such as anime fans who had never seen a kabuki play, or kabuki fans who did not know about anime. Also attracted were young people who were usually not targeted for a kabuki play. One Piece successfully broke through both to specific and to wider audiences. “Kabukikai & mangakai tomoni senpu wo makiokoshita sūpā kabuki II One Piece ga konshu saien!” [Super kabuki II One Piece which crated a great sensation in the world of kabuki and manga will be re-preformed this fall!], OZmall, on August 29, 2017,
25. The best example of fighting techniques in One Piece is Luffy’s, which is called “Rubber Rubber punch, Rubber Rubber… etc).” The key to this technique is that Luffy can stretch his arms back, then throw a devastating punch. The original story explains that Luffy mistakenly ate a poison fruit, and subsequently he was able to stretch his body freely at will. The presentation of this fighting technique in the kabuki performance drew attention because it was performed by the actor and kuroko (the “invisible” men in black clothing and black hoods who sometimes enter the stage and assist performers). In demonstrating Luffy’s fighting technique, the kuroko’s arms were lined up visibly and sequentially, to create the illusion of Luffy’s arm stretching out longer and longer.
26. Some of Yuzu’s songs have specific choreographies, which are usually easy to follow. At the live performance, the choreography is shown on big screens so that all the audience can follow the movements and enjoy dancing together. Some of the choreographies are even shown on YouTube, so that the fans learn and practice them before the Yuzu live performances. There, huge crowds dancing together with the singing musicians is a great part of feeling a kind of unity. The attendees are not only the audience, but also a part of Yuzu’s performance.
27. Yumiko Ouchi. “Ichikawa Ennosuke × Kitagawa Yujin taidan TETOTE ha koushite umareta! [Ichikawa Ennouske × Kitagawa Yujin Interview on how Tetote was born!], The program of Super Kabuki II One Piece, Tokyo: Shochiku, 2017.
28. This is the offstage sound which is produced in various ways in the room on the left of the stage, creating atmosphere and mood for each scene, such as the feel of the seasons: thunder in the hot summer, winter snowfall, etc.
“Live music and sound effects,” Kabuki: a wonder of Japanese Culture, Shochiku official website, accessed December 30, 2020.
29. This is the onstage music that is accompanied by more melodic forms of singing.

30. Kenjiro Yaita. Oto de miru kabuki: Butaiura kara nozoku dentougeinou [Viewing Kabuki with its sounds: Looking into transitional performance art from backstage]. (Tokyo: Shihyoron, 2009), 166.

31. Kazuko Tsuji. Kabuki no kaibou zukan [Detailed picture book of kabuki], (Tokyo: W-Knowledge, 2017), 110.

32. Ibid., 111.

33. Traditional Japanese instruments used in kabuki are Japanese drums, the banjo-like shamisen, and flutes.

34. “Sanpai no saini narasu suzu ni tsuite” [About ringing the bell at the prayer], Omairi no iroha [Introduction of Shinto worship. Jinja honcho [ Association of Shinto Shrines], accessed October 16, 2020,
35. This paper points out that the rituals in Super Kabuki II One Piece are reminiscent of Shinto rituals; however, it does not suggest that the Super Kabuki tries to create a Shinto space in the theatre.

36. Nakamura Hayato played Sanji, one of the main characters in One Piece, and performed the fighting scene in the waterfall. Nakamura mentioned that because of the 10 tons of water falling over him, he had a hard time just breathing, but because of cheering from the audience, he got very encouraged and felt that he could do anything. (“Hayato tōjō gyararī rekuchā kabuki yawa” [Hayato star in ---Gallery Lecture Kabuki night talk], Kabukibito [Kabuki Official Website],
They spent four hours to fill 10 tons of the water, then used as a spectacular part of the play.  (Super Kabuki II One Piece “Grand Live” Talk & Record. Shueisha, 2017. P47)

37. Nobutaka, Inoue. Shintō (Zukai zatsugaku) [Shinto], (Tokyo: Natsume sha, 2006), 106-107.

38. Although the front row of the first-floor seats was provided a vinyl cover to protect audience members from the splashing water, their faces and hair still got wet as they kept watching the stage over the vinyl cover and shouting for joy. The whole theatre filled with spray and mist.

39. Chūnori was not necessary for the story line, but helped to make Luffy charismatic.

40. Kenjiro Yaita. Oto de miru kabuki: Butaiura kara nozoku dentougeinou [Viewing Kabuki with its sounds: Looking into transitional performance art from backstage]. (Tokyo: Shihyoron, 2009), 100.

41. Ouchi Yumiko, editor. “Ichikawa Ennosuke × Kitagawa Yujin Taidan TETOTE ha koushite umareta!” [Ichikawa Ennosuke × Kitagawa Yujin Interview on how TETOTE was born!]. The program of Super Kabuki II One Piece. (Tokyo: Shochiku, 2017).

42. Originally, Sergei Eisenstein noted Disney animation characters’ simple body shapes and their ability to flex, stretch, or change shapes. He called this characteristic “plasmaticness.” Then, Tomas Lamarre applied Eisenstein’s idea of plasmaticness to Japanese anime and manga in order to argue that these media allowed “fluidity of line,” and characters of “simple geometric shapes, which made for ample, easily deformable characters” (112) as well. Lamarre called the same characteristic “plasmaticity.” Interestingly, we could also see plasmaticity in Super Kabuki II, because the kabuki used the line of kuroko to mimic Luffy’s stretching arm punch, and also used chūnori to make it possible for a character to fly, a real-life, 3D version of the freedom granted by 2D manga and anime’s fluidity of line. Ennosuke IV used these kabuki techniques to bring his theatre closer to manga and anime. 
Sergei Eisenstein. Eisenstein on Disney, ed. Jay Leyda, trans. Alan Upchurch (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1986.)
Tomas Lamarre. “Speciesism, Part III: Neoteny and the Politics of Life,” Mechademia 2 (2011): 110-136.
43. Onoe Ukon II (1992- ) is originally from the Kiyomoto family of kabuki musicians. His great-grandfather was a well-known kabuki actor, and his grandfather and father were kabuki music masters. He is also a kabuki musician with the stage name Kiyomoto Eijudayu VII. Debuting at the age of eight, he became more famously known as a kabuki actor, especially after the program One Piece. Performing a leading role like Luffy for such a young kabuki actor like Ukon II was very rare. However, Ennosuke IV chose Ukon II as Luffy because he had already seen and appreciated Ukon II’s performance skill. In fact, Ukon II’s performance impressed a lot of the audience.
“Onoe Ukon ga Luffy yakuni! Sūpā kabuki II One Piece de Ichikawa Ennosuke to daburu shuen” [Onoe Ukon became Luffy! Double starring for Super Kabuki II One Piece with Ennouske IV], SPICE, accessed March 30, 2018.
 “Kabuki to Kiyomotobushi no dayū wo ryoritsu. Onoe Ukon-san wo tsuki ugokasu gendōryoku ni semaru”[To be both a kabuki actor and a musician – Seeking motivation pushes Onoe Ukon], Interview Report, accessed December 30, 2020.
 “Onoe Ukon ga enjyukai de dai nanadaime kiyomoto eijyu dayū shūmei hirō” [Onoe Ukon announced the succession to Kiyomoto Eijudayu VII at Enjukai]. Kabukibito, acceded December 30, 2020,

44. “Ichikawa Ennosuke “Onoe Ukon wo seichō sasetai” daiyaku no wakate kabuki haiyū ni kitai wo yoseru riyū” [Ichikawa Ennosuke wants to train Onoe Ukon---the reasons why Ennoucke hopes from younger actors], Shukan Josei PRIME, October 31, 2017.10.

45. Given that Super Kabuki II has only ever been performed in front of a Japanese audience, and given that Westerners have a different relationship to their religions then do Japanese, it is not clear to this writer that the same socio-cultural processes that "generate" a charismatic figure with a Japanese audience would do the same with a Western audience.

46. Shinsaku Kabuki [New Kabuki] Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was a kabuki play based on Miyazaki Hayao’s manga of the same name (1982-1994). The animated film of Nausicca (1984) is also a widely-known and very popular anime that was directed by the same Miyazaki Hayao. The Shinsaku Kabuki version of Nausicaa followed the manga story; however, in the kabuki play the characteristics of Nausicaa, the female protagonist, were very different from the original work because an onnagata (a male actor play a female role) has to follow certain stylized feminine body movements, vocalization, and behaviour to show a “female character.” However, the female protagonist in the anime and manga versions of Nasuicaa is described as much more active, direct, and stronger than the portrayal by the kabuki onnagata. So, it was not easy to successfully recreate the well-known world of Nausicca on the kabuki stage. Furthermore, because Shinsaku Kabuki Nausicca treated the audience more like viewers and outsiders from the stage, it could allow only limited audience participation.


Eisenstein, Sergei. Eisenstein on Disney. Edited by Jay Leyda. Translated by Alan Upchurch Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1986.
Hattori, Yukio. Kabuki no kōzō: dentō engeki no sōzō seishin [Structure of Kabiki – the mentality of the traditional performance]. Tokyo: Chuko shinsho, 1970.
Ichikawa, Ennosuke. Sūpā kabuki: Monozukuri nōto [Super kabuki: the notes of creation]. Tokyo: Shueisha, 2003.
Ichikawa, Ennosuke, editor. Super Kabuki II [One Piece] Talk & Record. Tokyo: Shueisha, 2017.
Nagashima, Atsuko. Edo no kurosu doressātachi: sekushuaru mainoriti no rikai no tameni [Edo’s Cross-dressers: understanding sexual minorities]. Tokyo: Bensei shupan, 2017.
Ouchi, Yumiko, editor. “Ichikawa Ennosuke × Kitagawa Yujin taidan TETOTE ha koushite umareta!” [Ichikawa Ennouske × Kitagawa Yujin Interview on how Tetote was born!]. The program of Super Kabuki II One Piece. Tokyo: Shochiku, 2017.
Raz, Jacom. Audience and Actors – A Study of their Interaction in the Japanese Traditional Theatre. Leiden: Brill, 1983.
Tsuji, Kazuko. Kabuki no kaibou zukan [Detailed picture book of kabuki]., Tokyo: W-Knowledge, 2017.
Yaita, Kenjiro. Oto de miru kabuki: Butaiura kara nozoku dentougeinou [Viewing Kabuki with its sounds: Looking into transitional performance art from backstage]. Tokyo: Shihyoron, 2009.
[Websites] (footnotes order)
1. “Onoe Ukon became Luffy! Double starring for Supper Kabuki II One Piece with Ennouske IV,” SPICE. March 30, 2018.
“Box-office revenue 14.6 billion yen! Kabuki’s unknown business model,” DIAMOND Online. September 17, 2016.
11. “Kabukiza no rekishi” [History of Kabuki-za], Shochiku, accessed January 8, 2021.
21. “One Piece,” Shonen JUMP official site, accessed December 30, 2020.
22“One Piece Ruikei hakkobusu 4 oku 3000 manbu toppa! Luffy to onaji 5 oku mo shiyani” [One Piece Total issues in circulation went over 430 million!], Comic Natalie. Accessed October 16, 2017.
23. “Luffy ga teni ireta sekai ichi no akashi One Piece to ginesu sekai kiroku” [The proof of the best in the world that Luffy got --- “One Piece” and Guinness World Record]. Accessed June 15, 2015.
24 “Kabukikai & mangakai tomoni senpu wo makiokoshita sūpā kabuki II One Piece ga konshu saien!” [Super kabuki II One Piece which crated a great sensation in the world of kabuki and manga will be re-preformed this fall!], OZmall. Accessed August 29, 2017.
28. “Live music and sound effects,” Kabuki: a wonder of Japanese Culture, Shochiku official website. Accessed December 30, 2020.
34. “Sanpai no saini narasu suzu ni tsuite” [About ringing the bell at the prayer], Omairi no iroha [Introduction of Shinto worship. Jinja honcho [ Association of Shinto Shrines]. Accessed October 16, 2020.

36. “Hayato tōjō gyararī rekuchā kabuki yawa” [Hayato star in ---Gallery Lecture Kabuki night talk], Kabukibito [Kabuki Official Website]. Accessed December 22, 2015.

43. “Onoe Ukon ga Luffy yakuni! Sūpā kabuki II One Piece de Ichikawa Ennosuke to daburu shuen” [Onoe Ukon became Luffy! Double starring for Super Kabuki II One Piece with Ennouske IV], SPICE. Accessed March 30, 2018.
 “Kabuki to Kiyomotobushi no dayū wo ryoritsu. Onoe Ukon-san wo tsuki ugokasu gendōryoku ni semaru”[To be both a kabuki actor and a musician – Seeking motivation pushes Onoe Ukon], Interview Report, Kateigaho. Accessed December

30, 2020.
 “Onoe Ukon ga enjyukai de dai nanadaime kiyomoto eijyu dayū shūmei hirō” [Onoe Ukon announced the succession to Kiyomoto Eijudayu VII at Enjukai]. Kabukibito [Kabuki Official Website]. Acceded December 30, 2020.

44. “Ichikawa Ennosuke “Onoe Ukon wo seichō sasetai” daiyaku no wakate kabuki haiyū ni kitai wo yoseru riyū” [Ichikawa Ennosuke wants to train Onoe Ukon---the reasons why Ennoucke hopes from younger actors], Shukan Josei PRIME. October 31, 2017.10.

About the Author

Yuki Ohsawa is an Associate Professor in the Center for Language Studies at Otaru University of Commerce, Japan. She has been teaching Japanese language and culture. Her research specialty is Japanese visual culture, especially manga, anime, and films. She has taught at the University of British Columbia (Canada), Western Washington University (U.S.), and has presented at the World of Anime Series of the Toronto Film Festival Cinematheque, and for other similar venues. Her primary research interest has been posthumans, but her interest has recently expanded to theatre and other aspects of popular culture.

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