Saturday, June 22, 2002

Kabuki-za June 2002

This post was originally written for another social media platform on June 22, 2002 and I thought it would be worth sharing here.

We parted with a friend and grabbed the subway back to Ginza and Kabuki-za Theatre.  You can`t miss it because it`s the only massive traditional-style peaked roof building in the midst of a sea of skyscrapers. We were rushed up 3 flights of stairs by the helpful attendants where we found our seats off to the right side of the 3rd balcony.  It would be good to note that the seating in traditional Japanese fashion was very cramped. 

For anyone interested, you can rent a hearing device where an English translation of the events and songs will be whispered politely in your ear.  Well worth the 650 yen. There is a 1000 yen deposit which you get back upon safe return of the transmitter.  If you can afford it, I also suggest getting not only the English program, but the Japanese as well because it has a lot more info and a lot more color photos.

Oniji Hyoshimai
The first performance was Oniji Hyoshimai, a dance play in which a warrior disguised as a woodcutter fights over a treasured flute with a female court dancer.  We came in a couple minutes into this performance, but it was beautiful.

The second portion of the show was Kojo or stage announcement. The top actors were lined up across the floor in full formal costume, bowing fully to the floor.  In turn, each offered their congratulations to the new Shoroku.  Shoroku is the name of one of the most treasured kabuki performers who died in the 1800s.  The name was retired until the current actor`s grandfather took it up.  Today, because he has risen in the ranks of kabuki actors, the grandson took on the name of Shoroku the Third.  It was very fortunate for us to see such an important event.

Funa Benkai
The third performance was Funa Benkai.  It is the story of young general Yoshitsune who had recently won a war against the Heike clan, but due to trickery was in disfavor with his brother the shogun.  All attempts to clear his name had been thwarted, so he is attempting to flee Kyushu by boat.  Before he sets sail, he is advised by his warrior-priest, Benkei, to send his lover, Shuzuka, back to the capitol where she would be safer.  She performs one dance before parting. (I almost cried at this point).  Then Yoshitsune and his men set sail despite bad weather.  Shortly into their voyage, with no land in sight, they are attacked by the ghost of the great Heike general, Tomomori, who is portrayed in the almost floor-length black mane-style wig, wild facial markings (in blue which is typically the color of evil), and white and gold costume.  Yoshitsune wasn`t going to go down without a fight, though he knew his blade could not harm the ghost.  Fortunately, Benkei jumped into the fray, rubbing his prayer beads and reciting prayers to Buddha.  Tomomori seemed to lose power and was sucked down into a whirlpool to rest once again.

Sakanya Sogoro
The final performance was Sakanya Sogoro.  Sogoro is a fish seller whose sister was recently murdered by the samurai that had taken her in as his favorite concubine.  At this time in Japan, Samurai could cut down anyone they cared to for no reason and not be reprimanded as long as the victim was below them in status.  So, the victim`s family had no recourse.  In an unheard of manner, the samurai had given the family money in a kind of reverse dowry when he took the sister into his home.  And in order to save the family pride, Sogoro had stopped drinking as it always made him crazy.  Even after his sister`s death, he refused to drink... until a keg of sake was delivered to their door, that is.  It had been sent by another courtesan of the samurai who had been the confidante of the dead sister.  Sogoro still did not drink.  She arrived soon after and explained the circumstances of the sister`s death.  The sister had gone off one night in search of her lost cat.  She had wandered in the Garden when the evil second to the Steward (I forget his title) had attacked her.  He had been trying to force himself on her for a while.  Luckily a courtier who was housed nearby jumped in and saved the sister.  The evil servant ran to the lord and told him that the sister had been having dalliances with the courtier almost every evening in the garden.  She did return to the courtier once, but only to thank him for rescuing her.  The evil servant had gotten the lord drunk and crazy and brought him to the garden to catch them in the act.  The samurai lord was so angered, he grabbed the sister by the hair, ran her through, and tossed her body into the well.  When Sogoro heard of this, he immediately called for the sake.  First a cup, then two cups, then he grabbed the bowl, then he got hold of the keg and emptied it despite everyone`s efforts to stop him.  This portion of the act was quite hilarious, with the actor stumbling drunk with his wife holding onto his sleeve, being dragged across the floor as he sets out to get revenge for his sister.  He arrives at the samurai`s home and immediately runs into the evil servant who has the guards bind him.  It would be fair to say that the guards took quite a thrashing from Sogoro even though he was blind drunk.  Just as the evil servant is about to run him through, the Steward arrives and convinces the servant to let Sogoro sleep off his drunkenness because it is bad form to kill a drunk.  The servant cools down and leaves.  The Steward immediately has Sogoro released and taken to the garden to sleep off the alcohol.  When Sogoro awakens, he has no idea what he had done the night before.  The Steward comes out with the lord and Sogoro is so embarassed, he can`t look up at them.  And then the samurai does something completely unheard of.  He apologizes for his rash actions and tells Sogoro that he will set his family up for the rest of their lives.  Then a guard rushes in to say that the servant had been caught plotting against their lord, his men had been captured, and the servant himself was on the run.  Sogoro wants to run after him, but the lord tells him to bide his time.  His men will more than take care of the problem.

 All in all, a great show! I want to go again to see the morning program which is entirely different, but at 5 hours per full program, there`s just no way on this trip.

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