Friday, November 6, 2009

Kabuki-za November 2009

This post was originally written for another social media platform on November 6, 2009 with a synposis added in 2019 and I thought it would be worth sharing here.

Just got back from seeing the last half of Chushingura at Kabuki-za.  Amazing!  The sets were some of the most elaborate I've ever seen which makes sense since this is one of the most beloved stories in Japan's history.

Acts from the first half of the play were performed in the morning, but my schedule didn't allow for a full day of Kabuki.

I barely made it in time for the performance and managed to get a seat at half the usual price since it was further back.  There were only 3 seats left in the theatre, so I got very lucky.

Kanadehon Chushingura

As with many Kabuki plays, the story is based on an actual event, though set in a much older time to avoid censorship.

Kanadehon Chushingura (Treasury of Loyal Retainers) is loosely based on the real-life incident that took place between 1701-1703.  Daimyo Asano Naganori was charged with receiving envoys from the Imperial Court in Kyoto at Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi's castle in Edo with Kira Yoshinaka acting as Asano's advisor.  It is believed that Kira provoked Asano into drawing his sword and attacking him.  Kira went unpunished while Asano was required to commit seppuku and have his lands confiscated and his samurai sent away.  Two years later, high-ranking former retainer Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio lead a group of 46-47 ronin into Kira's mansion where he was attacked and beheaded.  They laid Kira's head on Asano's grave before turning themselves in.  They were ordered to commit seppuku and did so all on the same day. 

Act V, Scene 1:  Yamazaki kaidō teppō watashi no ba (The Handing Over of the Gun on the Yamazaki Highway)
Hayano Kampei, disgraced former retainer to Enya Hangan (Asano's fictional counterpart), is working as a hunter and living with his wife Okaru and her parents.  One evening, the rope he uses as a fuse for his gun is snuffed out by rainfall, so he asks a fellow traveler relight it and offers to hand over his gun so the stranger will know he's not trying to rob him.  When they get close enough to see each other, the traveler is revealed to be another of Hangan's retainers, Senzaki Yagoro.  Kampei tells Yagoro that he wants in on the vendetta to avenge Hangan and asks him to pass along that he is working toward being reinstated as samurai.

Act V, Scene 2:  Yamazaki kaidō teppō watashi no ba (Two Bullets on the Yamazaki Highway)
While Kampei is away, Okaru and her parents have decided that the only way to raise enough money to reinstate Kampei's samurai status is to sell Okaru into prostitution as a courtesan in Gion.  Her father Yoichibei has gone to Gion to sign the contract and is returning at night with the money.  While taking a rest break, he is stabbed by the thief Ono Sadakuro who happens to be the son of another of Hangan's retainers, turned to crime for profit.  Sadakuro doesn't get to enjoy his prize for long before he is shot after being mistaken for a wild boar that had been running from a hunter.  The hunter happens to be Kampei who realizes he shot a man and begins searching the body for medicine.  Instead, he finds Yoichibei's money and he excitedly rushes off to give it to Yagoro.

Act VI:  Kanpei seppuku no ba (Kapmei's Ritual Suicide in Yoichibei's House)
Brothel proprietress Osai arrives to pay the remaining contract fee and to take Okaru away.  As they prepare to leave, Kampei arrives home and forces them to stay until they explain the situation.  Osai tells him about the first payment of gold to Yoichibei, describing the distinctive cloth it was wrapped in which Kampei realizes is the same bloodied cloth that held the money he retrieved from the body.  He now believes he killed Yoichibei and makes up a story about meeting him along the way and learning of the contract then.  After a brief farewell, Okaru is taken away.  Yoichibei's wife Okaya is suspicious of Kampei's story and, when hunters deliver Yoichibei's body to his home, she accuses Kampei of killing his father-in-law.  Yagoro arrives shortly after to return the money because it doesn't absolve his prior act of disloyalty.  Okaya tells them that Kampei murdered her husband and Kampei realizes that he must commit seppuku.  As he is dying, he explains his side of the story.  They examine Yoichibei's body and discover that he was stabbed and not shot, connecting the dots to the body of Sadakuro's that they had also come across, and realizing that Kampei had essentially avenged his father-in-law's death.  For this deed, he is allowed to join the vendetta posthumously and Kampei's name is added to the scroll which he seals with his own blood.

Act VII:  Gion Ichiriki no ba (The Ichiriki Teahouse in the Gion Pleasure Quarters)
Oboshi Yuranosuke, former chief retainer to Hangan (and fictional counterpart to Kuranosuke Yoshio), has been spending all of his time in pleasure quarters being profoundly drunk.  Many of those involved in the vendetta worry that this is not just an act to convince the enemy that he's abandoned the plan, so three of Hangan's former retainers set out to find the truth.  They find a drunken Yuranosuke playing games at the Ichiriki Teahouse and he passes out after poorly answering their questions.  Convinced he's abandoned the vendetta to foolishness, they attempt to kill him and are prevented from doing so by the footman, Heiemon.  Heiemon tries to leave a written request to join the vendetta, though he is not a samurai, with Yuranosuke who tosses it right back at him while still seemingly asleep.  Soon after, Yuranosuke's son Rikiya delivers a secret letter from Hangan's widow which Yuranosuke hides in his sleeve before sending his son away.  He is being spied upon by Ono Kudayu, Yuranosuke's former counterpart who has changed sides to work for Moronao.  It's the eve of Hangan's death and Yuranosuke asks Kudayu to join him for drinks.  Kudayu urges him to eat some octopus which Yuranosuke does, even though it's considered taboo for a loyal retainer to eat meat on the anniversary of their lord's death, convincing Kudayu that he is no longer loyal to Hangan. When Yuranosuke leaves his swords behind to attend a banquet, Kudayu finds that it is rusty and sees this as further proof that Yuranosuke has abandoned his samurai life, though Kudayu continues to watch in hiding.  Yuranosuke steps into the parlor to read the letter which provides Moronao's new location.  Okaru, who is working at the teahouse and does not know what has become of her husband, has stepped out onto the balcony above the parlor for fresh air and reads Yuranosuke's letter out of curiosity with the aid of her mirror while Kudayu reads the letter from his hiding place below the parlor.  Yuranosuke sees Okaru and offers to buy out her contract which makes her happy as she thinks she can return to Kampei.  While he sets off to talk with the proprietress, Okaru comes across her brother Heiemon who, upon learning of her status, praises her for her loyalty to family.  She tells him about the letter and he attacks her, believing correctly that Yuranosuke plans to kill her to protect the information on the letter and hoping that this will win him a place on the vendetta.  He tells her about her husband's death and Yuranosuke's plan to kill her and asks that he be allowed to kill her instead.  She offers to kill herself and allow Heiemon to use her head as a pledge of loyalty to the vendetta.  Yuranosuke overhears and stops them, praising their loyalty and offering a place on the vendetta for Heiemon.  He asks Okaru to live so she may pray for the members of the vendetta and he helps her to act on the vendetta in Kampei's place by having her use his sword to stab Kudayu through the floor.  The act ends with Yuranosuke instructing Heiemon to help the drunken customer (Kudayu) home which translates to dumping him into the Kamo River.

Act XI, Koke uchiiri no ba (The Attack on Ko no Moronao's Mansion)
Moronao has secured himself in a new mansion across the Ryogoku Bridge from Edo.  Using the plans for the estate, members of the vendetta dressed as firefighters go out into the snow and attack the front and back gates at midnight.  They sound the fire alarm with a drum and everyone inside stumbles out drunk and tired from a party into an ambush.  Ladies-in-waiting flee and some of the men try to disguise themselves as women to flee with them.  Vendetta member Takemori Kitahachi and Moronao's hired fighter Kobayashi Heihachiro have an epic and slippery battle on the garden bridge.  Moronao is eventually discovered hiding in the coal shed and is beheaded.  The act closes with the members of the vendetta assembling on Ryogoku Bridge before going to Hangan's grave to present the head of Moronao.

During the 30 minute intermission I located the taiyaki vendor on my floor.  They make the special variety I had last year with a white and a red mochi ball inside, along with red bean.  At the end of the show, myself and almost everyone else who was in attendance took a ton of photos of the front of Kabuki-za where there was a large digital countdown display for Kabuki-za's final days before demolition.

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