Leading Japanese theatre director Yukio Ninagawa dies, aged 80

Yukio Ninagawa, the giant of Japanese commercial theatre and Shakespeare, has died at the age of 80.

Born in 1935, Ninagawa was known for his stagings of world classics such as the plays of Shakespeare. He was also artistic director of Saitama Arts Theater from 1998 and Dean of Toho Gakuen College of Drama and Music.

yukio ninagawa theatre director japanese dies

He had been in poor health for some time. A renowned workaholic, he typically produced several plays a year and toured worldwide, though his collapse in December led to hospitalization. Rehearsals were scheduled to begin in January for a new play by Takahiro Fujita (Mum & Gypsy) with Ninagawa directing, but the production was postponed until Ninagawa could make a full recovery.

He made his debut as a director in 1969, after establishing the fringe troupe Gekidan Gendaijin Gekijō in 1968. In 1972, he founded Sakurasha, and after its disbanding in 1974 he made he launched his commercial theatre career with Romeo and Juliet. He later established Saitama Gold Theater with only senior performers in 2005 as well as Saitama Next Theatre as a platform for developing young actors.

He received honorary doctorates from Edinburgh University in 1992 and Plymouth University in 2009, a CBE in 2002, the Order of Culture in 2010, and the Grand Prize and Best Directing Award at the 20th Yomiuri Theatre Awards, among many other accolades.

His revival of Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets, written by his frequent collaborator Kunio Shimizu, was successfully staged in France and Hong Kong. Other prominent productions in recent years include an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go and Kafka on the Shore, based on Haruki Murakami’s novel.

His daughter, Mika Ninagawa, is a famous photographer and film director, like her father known for a flamboyant visual style.

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