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Danjuro VIII

Handsome and popular (1823-54)

Danjuro VIII
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In 1823, just one month after he was born, he made his stage debut at the Ichimura-za in the role of Aradomaru, son of Usui Sadamitsu. Two years later, in 1825, he handed over the Shinnosuke name to his younger brother, taking the name Ebizo VI. In the third month of 1832, at the age of ten, he was named as Danjuro VIII.

This period saw a wide-ranging government crackdown on extravagance and immorality, and kabuki found itself in danger. The three main theatres in Edo were forced to relocate to the Saruwakacho area of Asakusa on the periphery of the city. The distance from the centre of the city meant that at first audience numbers fell dramatically. Fortunately and largely thanks to Danjuro VIIIís unprecedented popularity, the theatres were eventually able to regain their audiences.

Danjuro VIII had a long face and was strikingly handsome, in a way quite different from previous holders of the Danjuro name. He was elegant and refined, with a distinctive sexual allure and no hint of baseness. His voice was high-pitched, clear and mellifluous, and he had a masterful grasp of rhythm.

He was equally renowned for the respect he showed to his parents. After his fatherís banishment from Edo, Danjuro VIII abstained from tea every morning and went to pray at the Narita Fudo shrine in Kuramae for his fatherís safety and that he might be pardoned. The city magistrates officially commended and rewarded him for this display of filial piety.

When he played the role of Sukeroku, a rumour swept through the city that the water from a barrel he concealed himself within on stage was guaranteed to make you more beautiful. The water was soon packaged up and sold at a profit. There is even a legend that samurai maidservants would buy his phlegm to use as a lucky charm, carried in little bags within their kimonos.

In the sixth month 1854 he left Edo to pay a visit to his father, who was then living in Osaka. Along the road, father and son met and performed together in Nagoya. Late in the seventh month together they enjoyed a ceremonial boat trip to the theatre in Osaka. But on the morning the play was due to open, on the 6th of the eighth month in his room at the Uehisa inn in Osaka, Danjuro VIII committed suicide. His motive remains unknown. He was thirty-two years old.

Danjuro VIII had remained single throughout his life, and even death could not dull his immense popularity with his female fans. To mark his death, over three hundred different memorial prints (shini-e) were commissioned.

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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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