Onoe Kikugoro V was born in the Sarugaku-cho quarter of Edo in 1844 as the second son of Ichimura Uzaemon XII, an actor who was also proprietor of the Ichimura-za theatre. He was given the name Kurouemon as an infant.
Early in 1862, the art of Otowaya was symbolised by the performance of the new work Benten Kozo (also known as Aoto Zoshi Hana no Nishikie), which was commissioned from Kawatake Mokuami.
In August 1868, he entrusted the name of Uzaemon, which was used by the impresario and proprietor (tayumoto) of the troupe, to his younger brother Takematsu, while he himself entered the Onoe family, from which his mother came. He took the name Onoe Kikugoro V and became head of the Nakamura-za troupe the following year.
Throughout his career Kikugoro V devoted himself single-mindedly to the theatre and always preserved his sense of style.
Whenever he heard the sound of a bell signalling the occurrence of a fire, he was unable to sit still and would don the quilted half-cloak bearing the legend 'I-gumi' generally worn by members of the Edo fire brigade, and would rush to the site with fire-fighting implements in his hand. When a fire occurred close to the house of one of his pupils, Nishikawa Senzo, he turned up at the scene and was offered warm saké and an octopus side dish. Irritated at this excess of solicitude, he said that he would rather stand on the earthen floor and be treated with a cup of cold water in a tea cup along with a few slices of pickled yellow radish (takuan) placed in the palm of his hand. He refers to this incident in his autobiography.
He played leading tachiyaku male roles of particular importance to Otowaya actors especially in the sewamono genre, such as Kataoka Naojiro in Naozamurai in 1881, Sogoro in Uoya Sogoro (The Fishmonger Sogoro) in 1883, Tomizo in Yonsenryo (Four Thousand Ryo) in 1885, and Umekichi and Dogen in Kagatobi in 1886.
Kikugoro V's real forte was in the genre of sewamono, or realistic dramas of manners set in Edo, and he handed on most of the roles he played in this genre to Ichimura Uzaemon XV and Kikugoro VI.
April 1887 marked the first Kabuki performance given in the imperial presence. Arranged by the impresario Morita Kanya XII, it was given at the residence of the politician Inoue Kaoru, who lived in the Azabu Toriizaka quarter of Tokyo, with appearances by Danjuro IX and Kikugoro V. This marked a major turning point in the history of Kabuki actors, who had until then been looked down upon as representatives of the lowest social class.
Actors and impresarios had by now become big celebrities, and they vied for top position in the theatrical world while constantly forming and disbanding their troupes. This resulted in bad blood between Danjuro and Kikugoro, but the two actors managed to patch things up through the intercession of Ushinosuke, who was later to become Kikugoro VI.
In 1891 Danjuro put on Shigenoi no Kowakare while Kikugoro V was away in Osaka, and allocated Ushinosuke to the child's role of Sankichi, the umakata, or the person who holds the reins of a horse to lead it forward. Sankichi is considered to be a difficult role for a child to play. As a result of Ushinosuke having successfully played this role by the side of Danjuro IX, Kikugoro V and Danjuro IX established a close relationship, and at a performance of Kanjincho (The Subscription List) given at the Kabuki-za theatre in April 1899 Danjuro played Benkei opposite Kikugoro V's Togashi, which Kikugoro played for the first time on that occasion. Danjuro was unstinting in his praise for Kikugoro, saying that he was the most impressive Togashi he had ever appeared on stage with.
However, joint performances by the two greatest actors of the Meiji era were short-lived. Kikugoro V played the roles of Gonta and Sato Tadanobu in Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura at the Kabuki-za in March 1900, but Danjuro, who was supposed to be appearing in Kochiyama, was taken ill and his place was taken by Kikugoro V. Danjuro soon made a full recovery, but in November of the same year, Kikugoro V collapsed while performing the role of Watonai in Chikamatsu's play Kokusenya Kassen (The Great General's Battle).
His forthcoming performances at the Kabuki-za were duly announced at the beginning of the 1903 season, but Kikugoro V died at home in Shintomi-cho Tokyo on February 18, shortly before the scheduled date for his performances.
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