Actors & Actresses

Izumi Motoya

(Tokyo, 1974- )

Izumi Motoya

Noh goes back 600 years and is the world's oldest existing form of theater. It can seem very inscrutable and - let's admit it - boring, and I guess even Japanese people find it a bit stiff. Which may explain why comedy pieces are usually performed between the main noh dramas. This comedic form of traditional theater is called kyogen, and the main reason for a recent Noh revival has been the growing popularity of a new young generation of kyogen stars. Most visible among them has been Izumi Motoya, often refered to as the Prince of Kyogen.

Izumi is the 20th head of the Izumi-ryu school. He made his debut in as a monkey in the play Utubozaru when he was just three years old. He had mastered enough of the many kyogen techniques by the age of 16 to take on one of its most difficult pieces Tsurigitsune, which is not usually challenged until after adulthood. After this success, he turned professional. His father Motohide died when Motoya was just 21 but by that time he had studied all but four of the 254 works in the centuries-old Izumi repertoire.

His career was heading steadily upwards, under the careful guidance of his intimidating mother and manager Setsuko and elder sisters Junko (the first ever female kyogen performer) and Miyake Tokuro. In addition to his kyogen performances, he appeared in commercials and was a popular actor on TV, playing the lead in the NHK taiga (period drama) Hojo Tokimune (see poster below). Then he started to court controversy, something that is looked down upon in performers of the traditional arts.

Izumi Motoya Against his mother's strong objections, Izumi married an "outsider", actress Hano Aki. The announcement soon afterwards of her advanced pregnancy only added to the gossip columnists' glee. Even after admitting defeat, Setsuko insisted that her new daughter-in-law keep her mouth shut and study the traditional theater for at last ten years. Izumi then got on the wrong side of the Noh Association elders with a series of cancelled performances, double bookings and a stubborn, defiant insistence on using the title sokei. The title is conferred on the head of a school and had been held by Izumi's father, but Izumi assumed it for himself without his elders' approval.

There were multiple threats back and forth and finally a poll of association members nationwide on whether Izumi should be punished. The result was an almost unanimous 'yes' and he was kicked out. While there is always the possibility of his reinstatement, it means that he can never earn the title of ningen kokuho or National Living Treasure, coveted by practicioners of the traditional arts.