The Gift of Fudo (1688-1758)
When his wife was unable to conceive, Danjuro I is said to have prayed to the ferocious, demon-quelling deity Fudo at the family temple of Shinshoji in Narita. A son was born who would go on to become Danjuro II. He was thus nicknamed the Gift of Fudo.
He first appeared on stage at the Nakamura-za theatre in 1697 at the age of ten, alongside his father in the play Origin of the Soga Warrior (Tsuwamono Kongen Soga). He played the roles of the mountain priest Tsurikibo and the manifestation of the deity Fudo Myoo.
At the age of seventeen he took the name Danjuro II, just five months after his father’s unexpected death in 1704. But for several years he struggled to gain major roles.
Fortunately, Danjuro found a major ally in Ikushima Shingoro, a master of the more sensitive wagoto style of acting and the artistic heir to Nakamura Shichisaburo I. Thanks to the training he gained under Shingoro, Danjuro was able to broaden his acting range, mastering not just aragoto, but sensitive wagoto roles, realistic jitsugoto parts and love scenes. Danjuro enjoyed success in the archetypal wagoto role of Tokubei, the love-struck clerk in Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s Love Suicides at Sonezaki (Sonezaki Shinju).
In the fourth month 1713, at the age of twenty-six, Danjuro first played the signature Ichikawa role of the handsome dandy Sukeroku in the play The Flower Mansion & the Protective Cherry Tree (Hana Yakata Aigozakura) at the Yamamura-za. Danjuro would return to this role throughout his career, with his third and final attempt at the part thirty-six years later in 1749 establishing the costume and production conventions that are still used today.
In 1714 Danjuro became embroiled in a major scandal when his mentor Ikushima Shingoro was accused of conducting a secret affair with Ejima, a lady-in-waiting to the shogun’s mother. Danjuro escaped with a light punishment, but Shingoro was exiled to a distant island.
Danjuro II’s achievements were many – he refined the art he inherited from his father, as well as adding new plays like Sukeroku, The Arrow Sharpener (Ya no Ne) and The Tweezers (Kenuki) to the aragoto repertoire, thus establishing the Ichikawa family tradition. He was able to accomplish this because of the new expressive style of acting he developed through adding softer wagoto style elements to the central aragoto techniques. Danjuro II’s style struck a chord with his times and he enjoyed massive popularity in Edo. The stylized facial make-up known as kumadori was also perfected by this Danjuro.
In 1721 at the age of thirty-four Danjuro achieved the unprecedented annual salary of one thousand gold pieces.
In 1735 at the age of forty-eight, he passed on the Danjuro name to his adopted son Masugoro, who thus became Danjuro III. He himself took the name Ebizo II.
In 1741 he went on tour to Osaka, where his portrayal of Kumedera Danjo in The Tweezers (Kenuki) was acclaimed by Osaka audiences. However, while in Osaka he received the news that his adopted son, Danjuro III, had passed away. He refused to give into despair, completing his engagements in Osaka and returning to Edo in the ninth month of the following year.
In 1754 he adopted the mature actor Matsumoto Koshiro II (aged forty-four at the time), and had him named as Danjuro IV.
Like Danjuro I, he excelled in haiku. Danjuro II was responsible for building the foundation by which successive holders of the Danjuro name were held in special regard by the commoner audiences of Edo.
He died on the 24th day of the ninth month, 1758, aged seventy-one.