Shochiku’s Kabuki and other theatrical productions

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese performing art designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Shochiku, a private enterprise, is involved in the production and performance of Kabuki.

In 1890 (Year 23 of the Meiji era), joint performances were given at Gion-kan Theatre in Gion, Kyoto by Ichikawa Danjuro IX, who was a leading Kabuki actor at that time and played the starring role, and Nakamura Ganjiro I, who was a prominent actor of Kamigata Kabuki and played the supporting role. The performance attracted great attention. The twins Shirai Matsujiro and Otani Takejiro watched the performance eagerly while helping run theatre kiosk. This historical performance at Gion-kan Theatre led them to found Shochiku, a company which has been involved in the production and performance of plays and movies for over 120 years.

In addition to managing their family-owned kiosk in the playhouse, the brothers soon started the performance of plays by themselves, mainly Kabuki. Shochiku was founded in 1895 (Year 28 of the Meiji era), when Takejiro was placed in charge of performances at Sakaiza Theatre (currently Kyoto Shochiku Sakaiza Building) located in Shinkyogoku, Kyoto.

The brothers worked hard together to promote a new style of performance which matched the changing trends of the Meiji era. They produced a succession of hit performances and purchased a row of playhouses in Shinkyogoku. In 1902 (Year 35 of the Meiji era), they founded Matsu Take Partnership Corporation, which was named after the brothers. They also acquired the management rights of Minamiza Theatre, the most venerable theatre in Kyoto.

The brothers distinguished themselves as up-and-coming producers and affiliated theatres one after another in Dotonbori, Osaka. At that time, the Dotonbori district was the largest theatre district in Western Japan. In 1910 (Year 43 of the Meiji era), they expanded their business to Tokyo and purchased Shintomiza Theatre. Three years later, they acquired the management rights of Kabukiza Theatre, which had already established a brand image as the foremost theatre in Japan.

Around the same time, the theatre group Bunrakuza, performers of Ningyo Joruri, found themselves in a financial crisis. At the request of Takemoto Settsudaijou, who represented Bunrakuza at that time, Shochiku supported the performance of Bunraku for half a century until management of Bunraku was assumed by a cooperative under the direction of the Japanese government in 1963 (Year 38 of the Showa era).

From the Edo era to modern times, each theatre performed Kabuki with their own distinctive actors; in effect, their mutual rivalries propelled them to greater heights. Meanwhile, Shochiku worked vigorously to successively affiliate theatres in an effort to unite the Kabuki world. In 1929 (Year 4 of the Showa era), only 34 years after its founding, Shochiku oversaw all Kabuki performances given at large theatres.

The history of Kabuki overseas performances dates back to a performance given in the USSR (present-day Russia) in 1928 (Year 3 of the Showa era). Since then, overseas performances have been held in 115 cities in 38 countries (as of November 2019).

Today, in addition to Kabuki, Shochiku will continue to offer a variety of entertainment such as shinpa (a modernized form of Kabuki), shinkigeki (vaudeville-like comedy performances), translated performance of foreign works, light comedy and satires, Bunraku performances, and revues. Shochiku places great value on the production and performance of Kabuki because this art form was the basis for our founding, and we have inherited the founding brothers’ intense love for Kabuki.

About Kabuki