TOKYO — Utaemon VI, one of the last of the great Kabuki actors, who helped nurture the traditional theater after World War II, has died. He was 84.
Utaemon died of chronic respiratory failure at his home in Tokyo on March 31. An official funeral is planned for April 30.
"Utaemon was instrumental in passing on the traditional form and style of Kabuki through the postwar years," said Toshio Kawatake, professor emeritus of arts at Tokyo's Waseda University. "With his passing, Kabuki has lost a model who could properly pass on the traditional art."
Japanese media have carried obituaries over the last few days, lamenting the great loss to the 400-year-old theater, in which all roles are played by male actors, and expressing hope that the younger generation will carry on his spirit and preserve the tradition.
Born Fujio Kawamura in Tokyo, Utaemon VI was the son of Nakamura Utaemon V and one of a long line of famous Kabuki actors.
Utaemon VI stepped onto the Kabuki stage for the first time at age 5. At 15 he appeared in one of the great plays for female impersonators. From then on, Utaemon VI became known as an actor specializing in female roles.
He played more than 500 different roles in his career.
Utaemon was among a group of actors who toured the United States in 1960. He also performed in Europe, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.
Designated a "living national treasure" in Japan in 1968, Utaemon also won the Order of Culture in 1979 and Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1996. He last appeared on stage in August 1996.
His death comes when Kabuki faces a diversifying public interest in performing arts. The number of senior actors such as Utaemon, who had trained younger ones, is dwindling.
Utaemon is survived by three sons, all Kabuki actors.