The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Kanjuro Fujima
Fujima Kanjuro
Born in 1980, Fujima Kanjuro is a Kabuki furitsuke-shi (choreographer). He is the head of the Fujima school of traditional Japanese dance (Nihon buyo). His grandfather, Fujima Kanjuro IV was the highly acclaimed choreographer and dancer who was eventually designated a “Living National Treasure” by the Japanese government and whose oeuvre included a large number work. His mother Fujima Kanso III, is also a currently active Kabuki dance furitsuke-shi. In 2002 at the age of 22, he succeeded to the Kanjuro name, becoming Fujima Kanjuro VIII. He is winner of the 2003 New Artist award Minister of Education and Science Award for the Arts. He is known for his many new choreographic works, such as for the Imamukashi Momotaro performance for Nakamura Kanzaburo’s Name Succession performance in December 2004.

Buyo Tokiwazu; Masakado
(at Ishikawa Ongakudo Hougaku Hall, 2004)
Photo: Reiji Yamada
an overview
Artist Interview Artist Interview
What is a Kabuki furitsuke-shi?   Interviewed Fujima Kanjuro VIII 
There are said to be about 200 schools of traditional Japanese dance today. Of these, the five largest are the Hanayagi school, the Fujima school, the Wakayagi school, the Nishikawa school and the Bando school. In this interview we speak with Fujima Kanjuro VIII, the young leader of the Fujima school and heir to a family that has long been known as leading Kabuki furitsuke-shi (choreographers). The Fujima school was started by Fujima Kanbei in the Edo Period and the Kanjuro name that Kanjuro VIII succeeded to at the age of 22 has been handed down since the 1700s. We ask him about his work as a furitsuke-shi who supports today’s Kabuki from behind the scenes not only as a choreographer but with responsibilities similar to those of a stage director.
(Interviewer: Kazumi Narabe)

It is unfortunate that in Japan today there is more attention on classical ballet and riverdance than there is on Nihon buyo (traditional Japanese dance). I think many Japanese don’t even know the difference between Kabuki dance and traditional Japanese dance. Could you give us a beginner’s definition of the two?
Like the three characters that make up the word Kabuki in Japanese, Kabuki consists of song (poetry), dance and technique (acting, action). When Izumo no Okuni began Kabuki there was the influence of Noh theater that probably made the dance aspect dominant over the theatrical aspect. As Kabuki evolved after that, spoken parts were added and female parts [acted by men] emerged, the shamisen accompaniment was added until it reached the form of Kabuki dance we know today in the Edo Period. But originally, in Okuni’s era, Kabuki was dance. When Nagauta story recitation and shamisen music such as Kiyomoto became popular and Kabuki gained popularity as a result, there would naturally be a lot of amateurs wanting to learn the art. That in turn led to something close to Kabuki dance being taught as a form of small-scale “chamber” entertainment. This development brought the need for people to teach the amateurs. While Kabuki is a strictly male art, I think this need led to a role for talented women dance teachers and their presence gave birth eventually to what we know as Nihon buyo today.

When you are asked what your profession is, do you call yourself a buyo-ka (dancer) or a furitsuke-shi (choreographer)?
A furitsuke-shi, a choreographer. I am 25 years old now, so I call myself the No. 1 young choreographer. There are no other young [Kabuki] choreographers (laughs). In our world, young means someone around 50. And, since there are no [Kabuki] choreographers in their 30s or 40s, I’m not really the “No. 1” young choreographer but the “only one” young choreographer (laughs).

It would seem that during the 400-year history of Kabuki the actors have created and passed down the movements (kata) that we see in Kabuki today. So, what is the role of the furitsuke-shi (choreographer)?
I think most people have a misunderstanding concerning this. The kata of Kabuki—in other words the choreography of Kabuki—is not handed down through the families of Kabuki actors but through our families of Nihon buyo. For example, if the Kabuki actors are going to be performing Kyoganoko Musume Dojoji at the Kabuki-za theater next month, the actors come to practice at the Kanjuro studio, because the Dojoji choreography belongs to the Kanjuro family. After we teach them the movements, the actors from Kabuki families may go back home and their fathers will tell them, “This is how we did it in our day.” In other words, our role as the choreographer families is to teach them the basic movements of the dances.

Do you teach the dances differently to different actors?
Yes, it differs. Each actor has his own different physique and different mannerisms, so we choreograph differently for each actor. My grandfather, Kanjuro VI, used to say, “There is no one single form. You should make your own forms. That is the job of a furitsuke-shi.” In other words there are no forms or movements that are set in stone.
If a 25-year-old actor danced exactly the same way as a 65-year-old actor, the audience would surely think, “Why is he moving so slowly?” So, we add movements that make the younger actor look good. If the actor is 70, you choreograph in a way that he can move slowly and still look good with a mellow flavor. In short, the job of the furitsuke-shi is to choreograph in a way that brings out the best in each actor and makes him look like a great dancer.
Of course, you have to know the personality and the unique mannerisms of the individual actors. Personalizing the choreography to fit the mannerisms of the individual actors was something that my grandfather started. Apparently, it started when he was choreographing for a production of the famous Kabuki play Masakado Shinobiyoru Koi ha Kusemono by Uzaemon VI, who was a famously handsome actor, and Nakamura Kikugoro, another famous actor. Despite the presence of these two popular actors in a well-loved play, the audience was apparently not responding well. So, Uzaemon came to my grandfather and said, “Your choreography is to blame. I want you to change the choreography to something that will get some applause.” My grandfather said, “All right, I’ll have something ready by tomorrow.” But Uzaemon was angry and he said, “You do it right here and now, or you can drop dead!” My grandfather didn’t know what to do, but he remembered at that moment that Uzaemon had a particular habitual gesture of moving his hands back and forth around his chest. So, my grandfather worked that gesture into the choreography and at the next performance that dance drew big applause. From then on, Uzaemon put complete faith in my grandfather.
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