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Danjuro VII

A life rich in tribulations (1791-1859)

Danjuro VII
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Danjuro VII was the grandson of Danjuro V.

In the eighth month 1794 he made his stage debut, under the name Shinnosuke. In 1796, aged just six, he performed the Ichikawa classic Just a Minute! (Shibaraku) at the Kawarazaki-za. Following the unexpected death of Danjuro VI in 1799, he found himself suddenly named as Danjuro VII in the eleventh month 1800. He was just ten years old at the time.

In 1806 his grandfather Danjuro V passed away, and he found himself abandoned to the rough waves of the theatrical world. During the first decades of the 19th century, he surrounded himself with accomplished actors and expanded the range of his own art. Danjuro VII rose to fame in plays by the great master of horror and the grotesque Tsuruya Nanboku IV. He established a new type of villain character – the handsome but cruel youth, typified by the role of Tamiya Iemon in Namboku’s Ghost Stories of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan).

In the third month of 1832, at the age of forty-two, he had his son named as Danjuro VIII, while he himself took the name Ebizo V. At the same performance, he published a document that established the “Kabuki Eighteen” (Kabuki Juhachiban), a collection of plays that were closely associated with him and his predecessors in the Danjuro line. In 1840, in a performance dedicated to Danjuro I, he performed The Subscription List (Kanjincho) for the first time. This play, with its revolutionary staging that drew upon Noh conventions, would become the most popular play in the Kabuki Eighteen.

However, in the fourth month of 1842, Danjuro VII fell foul of a moral crackdown on extravagance. He was summoned before the city magistrates, bound in handcuffs and bound over into the care of his ward leader. On 22nd of the sixth month he was banished from the city. Changing his name to Naritaya Shichizaemon, on the 25th he left the city and took up temporary abode at the family temple of Shinshoji in Narita, several miles to the east of Edo. The following year he stayed for a couple of months with an oculist called Date Hon’eki near the foot of Mt. Fuji, before leaving for Osaka. He spent several years performing in Osaka, Kyoto and the regional centres of Otsu and Kuwana. During this period he used several different stage names, including Ichikawa Ebizo, Ichikawa Hakuen, Hataya Juzo, and Naritaya Shichizaemon.

Finally, in the twelfth month of 1849 he received a pardon. In the first month of the following year he was summoned back to Edo, and after a hurried departure he arrived in the city on the 29th of the second month. Perhaps the life of a traveling actor had grown on Danjuro, because for the remainder of his life he toured frequently.

Danjuro VII had two wives and three concubines, who bore him seven sons and five daughters. But with such complicated domestic arrangements his household was never a peaceful one.

In the eighth month 1854 he was on tour in Osaka and Kyoto, and he summoned his son Danjuro VIII to join him. While in Osaka, Danjuro VIII committed suicide.

In 1858 he returned to Edo for the first time in six years and performed at the Ichimura-za. His final performance would be as Soga no Goro at the Nakamura-za in 1859. He passed away on the 23rd of the third month, aged sixty-nine.

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Text : Hattori Yukio, Ichikawa Danjuro Daidai. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2002.
Illustrations : Collection of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University.
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