Sing, Dance, Act: Kabuki featuring Toma Ikuta 2022 Movie Review
Going into Sing Dance Act: Kabuki featuring Toma Ikuta, I knew very little about Kabuki, the hundreds-of-year-old art form of traditional Japanese theater. I knew about the beautiful and dramatic make-up and costuming, and that it was performed by all men, but I didn’t know that athleticism was just as important as creativity. Nor did I understand the amount of training that went into being a Kabuki actor. This Netflix Original documentary directed by Tadashi Aizawa follows Japanese actor Toma Ikuta’s challenge to new kabuki and his 20 years of friendship with kabuki star Matsuya Onoe.
In August 2021, Ikuta tried a new kabuki performance for the first time. Joining the final season of the independent Kabuki stage series called “Idomu (Challenge)” led by kabuki actor Matsuya Onoe, Ikuta undergoes decades of training in months. But this isn’t just a performance opportunity. Instead, this performance is about a decades-long friendship and a dream of performing together, making it an emotionally resonant endeavor. In their high school days, Onoe and Ikuta promised that they would stand on the same stage someday. And for the final stage of Onoe’s produced Kabuki stage series, Ikuta is his special guest in the new kabuki “Akado Suzunosuke” as Tatsumaki Rainoshin.
What Sing Dance Act does well is present the scope of Kabuki performance. It showcases the stark differences between performing for a camera versus performing on-stage, but more importantly, the process of wig-making and applying make-up, the hard work in executing mie facial expressions from ukiyo-e paintings, and the strength and dramatics behind the roppo, an entrance and exit from the stage.
To see the toll that Kabuki actors put their bodies through and learn about the family histories with the theatre immediately calls for reverence for the craft. As the performers practice and prepare for the play, there are sharp elements of history coming surrounded by modernity. Whether it’s crafting wigs with metal plates or using fresh wax to glue down eyebrows, to the make-up applicators, Kabuki is about tradition and heritage as much as it is entertainment.
It’s that scope and scale of Kabuki that makes Sing Dance Act: Kabuki featuring Toma Ikuta so beautiful to watch. As viewers see behind the curtain, they also learn the intricacies as Ikuta does. We see his determination as he rebuilds his acting from the ground up, and we hear the way he connects to Kabuki as a Japanese man. As Ikuta says, it’s in his DNA, it’s who he is, even if it’s only his first time. To see him change and learn and dedicate his body to the craft makes an impact that can’t be understated.
In the end, this is an intimate documentary that allows audiences to see into the friendship between Onoe and Ikuta. However, it’s that closeness that makes the film feel like a letter between two friends instead of something meant for an audience on the outside to experience. The strength of showcasing two people living a dream holds power, but it also turns the large scope of history in on itself.
Sing Dance Act: Kabuki featuring Toma Ikuta is a portrait of Toma Ikuta and his acting ability, but it’s also a look into the beauty and power of Kabuki theater and the actors who perform. To perform Kabuki takes strength and calmness, as much as it takes a flair for the dramatic.