Born in 1966, the Kyogen actor Mansai Nomura is the eldest son of the Kyogen actor and Important Living Cultural Entity (“Living National Treasure”) Mansaku Nomura. He studied under both his grandfather, the late Manzo Nomura IV, and his father. He has been designated as a holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property: Nohgaku. He is the leader of Kyogen Gozaru no Kai, which presents productions of more familiar and easier to appreciate Kyogen plays.
In 2002, he accepted the position of artistic director of the Setagaya Public Theatre. Following an artistic direction policy of “fusing the traditional and the contemporary” and “creating a repertoire”, he directs and acts in lead roles in plays, making full use of traditional Kyogen techniques to bring to life stage performances that attempt to realize a fusion between classical Japanese performing arts and contemporary theatre.
Employing his own unique approach to “utilizing the classics in the modern era” in his theatrical production activities, Nomura has interpreted many of the works of William Shakespeare, which are classic theatrical productions just as Noh and Kyogen plays are. The following productions are among his main works.
Machigai no Kyogen (“Kyogen of Errors”) (first performed in 2001) is a Kyogen adaptation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors that has been performed not only in Japan but also at the Globe Theatre in London and at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.
Kuninusubito, a Japanese adaptation of Richard III, was staged at the Setagaya Public Theatre as part of its 10th anniversary commemorative program. This production attracted public attention on account of its adaptation, direction and costumes that reflected a uniquely Japanese aesthetic sense resembling that exhibited in Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Kumonosujo (“Throne of Blood”), as well as for the performances of its highly diverse and strongly individualistic cast.
For Macbeth (first performed in 2010), Nomura boldly constructed and produced a pared-down version of the play with only the five main characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and the three witches. In this work, for which he began brewing ideas when he was studying in London in 1994-95 under the Agency for Cultural Affairs Program of Overseas Study for Upcoming Artists, he took up “mankind versus the whole of creation” from a Kyogen macro-viewpoint focusing on the absurdity of human behavior coupled with a Noh micro-viewpoint closing in on human spirituality and emotion. This work, which drew strongly on Nomura’s identity as a contemporary artist and an inheritor of traditional art, was performed many times in locations throughout Japan where it underwent repeated bouts of evolution and deepening, before travelling abroad where it was staged in New York and Seoul in 2013 and at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival in Romania and in Paris in 2014, enjoying excellent reviews from audiences in all these places.
Apart from Shakespeare’s works, Nomura has been compiling a series of Gendai Nohgakushu (“Contemporary Noh Plays”) in an attempt to share the wisdom and sophistication of classic Noh plays for the modern era and to utilize this in stage creation. Some of the greatest names representing the world of Japanese theatre are involved in the composition and production process, with each writing a new work for the series taking its concept from a Noh story, and occasionally drawing inspiration from Noh production methods in order to give birth to a brand new Gendai Nohgakushu.
Moreover, in Atsushi – Sangetsuki, Meijinden, composed around parts of the two novels Sangetsuki and Meijinden by early Showa era novelist Atsushi Nakajima (1909-42), Nomura employed narration techniques and ideas from classical performance arts, the structure of the musical components presented in Noh and Kyogen such as utai (chanting) and hayashi (musical accomplishment), and adapted them for use as stage arts, for which he was highly commended. In subsequent performances, he collaborated with world-class media artist Daito Manabe, who makes full use of cutting-edge technology, and their production, which crossed existing theatrical boundaries, proved extremely popular.
Apart from the above, Nomura has been active in diverse acting roles. His main stage roles include Waga Tamashii wa Kagayaku Mizu Nari (dir. Yukio Ninagawa), Oedipus Rex (dir. Yukio Ninagawa), Hamlet (dir. Jonathan Kent), Shigosen no Matsuri (dir. Hideo Kanze), Yabuhara Kengyo (dir. Tamiya Kuriyama), etc. His movie roles include Ran (dir. Akira Kurosawa), Onmyoji and Onmyoji 2 (dir. Yojiro Takita), and Nobo no Shiro (dir. Issin Inudo & Shinji Higuchi). He has also appeared in NHK’s Nihongo de Asobo and in the drama Orient Express (written by Koki Mitani).
For Atsushi – Sangetsuki, Meijinden, Nomura received a Performing Arts Award for Composition, Direction and Performance at the 2005 Asahi Performing Arts Awards and an Individual Award for Composition and Direction at the 2006 Kinokuniya Theatre Awards. In addition, he has been honored by a long list of other awards. For example, in 2003 he received one of the New Face Awards in the Classic Art Section in the Minister of Education Award for Fine Arts, and in 2012 he received an Arts Festival Excellence Award from the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs for the Kyogen play Hanako.