Onoe Baiko VII was born in Akasaka in Tokyo on August 31, 1915 and was adopted early on by Kikugoro VI. His real name was Terashima Seizo. He made his debut under the stage name Ushinosuke IV in the role of Kintaro in Wakakusa Ashigara-sodachi at the Ichimura-za theatre in May 1921, on the occasion of which the role of the mountain witch (yamanba) was played by his uncle, Baiko VI. He succeeded to the name of Onoe Kikunosuke III at the Kabuki-za theatre at the age of twenty in March 1935. The presentation on that occasion was held to commemorate the thirty-third anniversary of the death of Kikugoro V, of whom a large photograph was placed at the centre of the stage during the prologue to the performance.
During his youth he played wakashu (young men's) roles such as Sakuramaru in Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (The Secret of Sugawara's Calligraphy) and Shirai Gonpachi in Hiyoku no Cho Yume no Yoshiwara (Lover's Nightmare in the Yoshiwara). Having passed the age of twenty, he was told by Kikugoro VI that he would never be able to make it as a tachiyaku lead male actor, and he therefore decided to dedicate himself to onnagata roles from then on. In 1939 he began to appear at the Kabuki-za in hanagata performances featuring young actors in their twenties and thirties, and took on a succession of major roles such as Hangan and O-Karu in Kanadehon Chushingura, O-Sato,in Sushiya-no-ba (Sushi Shop), of Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (The Thousand Cherry Trees), and O-Miwa in Imoseyama Onna Teikin (An Example of Noble Womanhood).
After the start of the Pacific War, he spent most of the time travelling around the country entertaining the troops. In 1943 and 1944 he joined the troupe of Uzaemon XV as an exceptional beau-part actor. He danced the role of O-Karu opposite Uzaemon in the role of Kanpei in Michiyuki Tabiji no Hanamuko (the Kiyomoto interlude, often known as Ochiudo, between Acts IV and V of Kanadehon Chushingura) and performed one of the most celebrated wakashu roles in the repertory, Torazo in Kikubatake, for which he was coached by Uzaemon. Fuji, the widow of Baiko VI, suggested that he should succeed to the name Baiko, and the official ceremony took place at the Togeki Theatre in February 1947, when his stage name was changed from Kikunosuke III to Onoe Baiko VII. The roles he played on that occasion were O-Karu in Ochiudo and Soga Juro in Kotobuki Soga no Taimen (The Soga Brothers Confront Their Enemy). In his theatrical memoir, Ume to Kiku (Plum and Chrysanthemum), Baiko recalled that 'before the performance began, my father delivered the opening prologue all by himself in formal costume (haori hakama) with no stage makeup, but from the wings it seemed to me that my previously youthful-looking father's hair had turned completely white.'
In 1949, while in Kyoto he received news of the death of Kikugoro VI. In the train as he made his way back as quickly as possible to Tokyo, he began to think about what would happen to the Kikugoro troupe now that Kikugoro VI was no longer around. At the time, in addition to the Kikugoro troupe, there were also troupes run by Nakamura Kichiemon, Ichikawa Ennosuke and Bando Mitsugoro, but because the Kabuki-za was destroyed by fire during the war, the theatres run by Shochiku were now limited to the Togeki Theatre and the Shinbashi Enbujo. With almost seventy actors in the troupe, there was concern over whether there would be theatres sufficient for putting on monthly productions.
At the wake held on July 11, the day after Kikugoro's death, the leading actors from the troupe gathered on the balcony above the stairs at the late actor's house, which was known as the Chikushin'an, and held an emergency meeting. This meeting later became known as the Kikugoro troupe's 'balcony conference'. It was attended by Ichikawa Omezo (later Sadanji III), Onoe Shoroku, Bando Hikosaburo (later Uzaemon XVII), Ichimura Kuroemon and Onoe Koisaburo, and the subject of discussions was the future of the troupe.
The occasion that provided the opportunity for the Kikugoro troupe to make a comeback was the performance of Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), based on a libretto by Funabashi Seiichi performed at the Kabuki-za. This production first appeared on the stage in 1951. It proved enormously popular, with Baiko playing the roles of the lady-in-waiting Kiritsubo, Fujitsubo, Tamakazura and Onna Sannomiya and Ichikawa Ebizo IX (later Ichikawa Danjuro XI) playing the role of Hikaru Genji. This production continued until the third part presented in 1954. This was a dramatisation of the chapters of the Tale of Genji extending from Volume 1, Kiritsubo (The Paulownia Court), to Volume 41, Maboroshi (The Wizard), and it set the path for the creation of new works in the Kabuki theatre during the postwar era. Other major roles played by Baiko in historical dramas included Tamate Gozen in Sesshu Gappo Ga Tsuji (Gappo and His Daughters), Masaoka in Meiboku Sendai Hagi (The Disputed Succession), O-Karu and Tonase in Kanadehon Chushingura, Kakuju in Domyoji, O-Miwa in Imoseyama Onna Teikin (An Example of Noble Womanhood), and O-Mitsu in the Nozaki-mura no Dan section of the joruri play Shinpan Utazaimon. In the sewamono genre, he is remembered for his rendition of roles such as Benten in Benten Kozo and O-Hama in Sakanaya Sogoro (The Fishmonger Sogoro).
He excelled also in young wakashu roles and in Kabuki love scenes (wagoto), playing evocative roles such as Enya Hangan in Kanadehon Chushingura, Torazo in Kikubatake, Sakuramaru in Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, Takeda Katsuyori in Honcho Nijushiko (The Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety), and Gonpachi in Suzu-ga-mori. Taking his lead from Kikugoro VI, he also danced pieces such as Kagami-jishi, Dojoji, Fuji-musume and Yasuna in a truly traditional and orthodox manner.
He died in 1995 at the age of 79 after leading a life during which he was much loved by many people as a true gentleman of the theatre thanks to his graceful art and placid disposition. When his father Baiko died, the current Kikugoro responded to an interview in the magazine Engekikai (World of Theatre) in which he stated as follows: 'My father told me on his sickbed that he wanted above all to see Ushinosuke take the name of Kikunosuke. This was the one regret he left behind. But he was fortunate to have passed away while retaining a beautiful image. He was lucky to have worked opposite leading actors such as Danjuro XI and Shoroku II, and there could have been no greater sense of happiness for an actor than that he experienced in these performances.'
Together with Nakamura Utaemon VI, Onoe Baiko VII was indisputably one of the two great onnagata actors of the Showa era.
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