TOKYO (Reuters) - One of Japan's top kabuki actors, who worked hard to modernize the centuries-old theater form and performed around the world, died on Wednesday after a five-month battle with cancer, Japanese media reported.
Kanzaburo Nakamura, 57, was born to a family of longstanding performers in the ancient kabuki theatre - known for elaborate make-up, extravagant costumes and all-male casts - and began performing at the age of three.
He sought to modernize kabuki, which dates back 400 years, and to introduce Western audiences to the colorful art form through packed performances in New York, Paris and Berlin.
"I love Kabuki and it's a good thing I love it. If I hadn't loved it, I would have just gone mad, given the family I was born to," he told Reuters in 2008 before a performance in Berlin.
Diagnosed with esophageal cancer in June, he underwent surgery a month later but contracted pneumonia and was in and out of hospital after that, with women's magazines following his illness closely.
Born Noriaki Namino, he took the stage name of Kankuro Nakamura at his first performance, and then officially inherited the revered stage name Kanzaburo Nakamura in 2005, becoming the 18th person to bear it.
(Reporting by Olivier Fabre at Reuters Television; Editing by Elaine Lies and Ron Popeski)