Monday, January 11, 2016

Kabuki Review: Akoya

I recently watched the Kabuki DVD of Akoya and would like to share some moments from this great play.

Akoya, also knows as the "koto torture scene", is the third act in the play Dan no Ura Kabuto Gunki.  Akoya is a high-ranking courtesan and the lover of General Kagekiyo who has gone into hiding after his clan, the Taira, lost to the Genji clan in the Genpei War.  In this play, Akoya, who insists she doesn't know where Kagekiyo is hiding, is brought before Hatakeyama Shigetada who is charged to question and torture her.  Rather than bowing to pressure to use the typically heinous instruments of torture, Shigetada instead demands that Akoya perform on a series of three instruments: koto, shamisen, and kokyu.  She pours such loneliness and yearning for Kagekiyo into her music that Shigetada believes she is telling the truth and releases her.

Akoya was originally written for bunraku (puppet theatre) and later revised for kabuki. The musicians are from bunraku and perform on the thick-necked futo-zao shamisen.  As a nod to its origins, the part of the comical villain, Iwanaga Saemon Munetsura, is performed like a puppet, complete with puppeteers, moving eyebrows, and voice narration by the musicians.

The role of the courtesan Akoya is very difficult to master as it requires proficiency in three instruments: koto, shamisen, and kokyu, with the latter being rare. Tamasaburo Bando is currently the only actor capable of taking on this role and from 1950 to 1980 only Nakamura Utaemon VI could perform the role.

For more information on this play, please visit Kabuki21.  Here is a segment of Akoya featuring Tamasaburo's performance on the three instruments.  It's really beautiful!

The official DVD of Akoya is region-free and comes with English commentary and translation.  It can be purchased at Marty Gross Films and or at Kabuki-za Theatre if you're in Tokyo.


  1. Thank you for your introduction, it helps me tremendously in understanding the historical nuances of the play.