Born in Saitama in 1935, Ninagawa directed Hamlet a total of eight times in his extraordinary career. The play was undoubtedly his favourite, his obsession, and he brought exceptional insight to it.
Ninagawa's first production was in 1978. Hamlet was played by Ninagawa's long-time collaborator Hira Mikijiro. Sadly Hira (who memorably played the lead in the original productions of Ninagawa Macbeth and Medea) also passed away in 2016.
Ten years after his first production, Ninagawa directed the play again, featuring (as this poster indicates) the red hinadan display stand as a metaphor for the Danish court. Hamlet was played this time by Watanabe Ken, who went on to become a Hollywood star.
After another ten years, Ninagawa returned to the play again in 1998. This time Hamlet was portrayed by leading actor Sanada Hiroyuki, who would also play the Fool in Ninagawa's King Lear for the RSC.
For one of the earliest productions of the Sai-No-Kuni Shakespeare series, Ninagawa directed a stripped-down, intimate version of the play for the smaller space at the Saitama Art Theatre in 2001. This time it was Ichimura Masachika's turn to play the prince.
Ninagawa directed a company of comparatively young actors in the play at Bunkamura in 2003. The company featured frequent collaborators Suzuki Ann, Oguri Shun and Tatsuya Fujiwara in the title role.
In 2004 Ninagawa directed Hamlet in English, for a production that toured the United Kingdom. Michael Maloney played Hamlet.
Performed as the third project by Saitama Next Theatre, this was presented as 'Hamlet - Performed by the Pale Boys and Girls'. It was the winner of a third Yomiuri Drama Prize for Ninagawa's work.
In celebration of his 80th birthday in 2015, Ninagawa returned to the play for an eight production, again featuring Fujiwara Tatsuya as the Prince and also Hira Mikijiro returning to the play, this time as Claudius. The production toured to Taiwan and to the Barbican in London.