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May Grand Kabuki

at : Osaka Shochiku-za Theatre
2011.05.02 - 2011.05.26
Kiwametsuki Banzui Chobei ( "The Renowned Banzui Chobei")
DanjuroBanzui Chobei 
    Kiwametsuki Banzui Chobei – "The Renowned Banzui Chobei" was written by Kawatake Mokuami and first performed in Tokyo in 1881. Set towards the end of Japan's feudal Edo Period (1603-1868), this sewamono "contemporary play" gives an insight into the uneasy relationship between the samurai and townsmen.

Story and highlights
    The story concerns the character of popular legend – the seventeenth-century townsman from Edo called Banzuin Chobei, a so-called otokodate, or chivalrous commoner. Strong and brave, otokodate were Robin Hood-like figures who challenged the rule of the samurai warriors who, although socially superior, were often arrogant and domineering. Chobei and his men often find themselves involved in skirmishes with the Shiratsuka gang of samurai who have the high-ranking Jurozaemon as their leader.
    Although the curtain opens upon a historical scene, we are actually in the Murayama-za theatre in Edo and are watching a Kabuki play – a play-within-a-play. The on-stage action is interrupted by a drunken samurai and Chobei steps up from the audience and tries to persuade him to leave. The samurai, one of Jurozaemon's men, refuses to leave and so Chobei has him removed. From a theatre box, Mizuno Jurozaemon himself is watching the play and has witnessed the whole incident. He and Chobei exchange greetings but, when Chobei's men arrive at the theatre, the tension between them is clear.
    The scene changes to Chobei's house and his wife and young son arrive home. Shortly after, one of Jurozaemon's samurai unexpectedly appears and invites Chobei to Mizuno's mansion. Despite the warnings from his wife and followers that he is risking his life by going, Chobei is determined to attend. Chobei's calm acceptance that, for all his bravery, he cannot escape his fate has been seen as Mokuami's metaphor for the ending of the old order and Japan's thrust into the modern world. Although Chobei is sure that he is risking his life, he is determined not to appear a coward and dresses in his finest clothes.
    He is formally greeted by Mizuno and his men who offer Chobei refreshments. Mizuno talks of the impetuous young men in their respective groups who spend too much time at the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter.
He has heard of Chobei's skill with a sword and, although he politely refuses, they insist on a demonstration with wooden practise swords. Chobei easily defeats his opponent, much to their displeasure.
    The invitation, however, is all a cowardly plot to kill Chobei and wine is deliberately spilled on his clothes. Greatly apologetic, they insist that, while his clothes are drying, he make use of Mizuno's splendid bathroom.
The final scene takes place in the bath room. Chobei enters wearing only a light yukata kimono. Unarmed, he is attacked by several men but manages to put up a fight with some of the bathwater buckets. It is a hopeless struggle, however, and he is finally felled by Mizuno's lance. Hearing that a coffin has been sent to the mansion they realise that Chobei was prepared for death and praise his valour.
Benten musume meo no shiranami  ("Benten the Male, Female Bandit")
DanjuroNippon Daemon 
    This play was written by Kawatake Mokuami and first performed in 1862 at the Ichimura-za in Edo. It is a Sewamono, domestic drama and one of a genre of plays called shiranamimono, meaning literally 'white wave' plays and the name is said to be derived from a Chinese groups of bandits who had their hideout in a certain 'White Wave Valley'. Shiranamimono became a general term for plays about bandits and the Kawatake Mokuami became particularly associated with them. One of the characteristics of shiranamimono is the heroic quality of its thieves which gives them certain flamboyant style.
    Alternatives titles of this play are: Aoto Zoshi Hana no Nishiki-e ("The Glorious Picture
Book of Aoto's Exploits") or Benten Kozo Shiranami Gonin Otoko ("Benten and the
Shiranami Five Thieves"). The following two acts are regularly performed today.

Act III, Hamamatsuya ("The Hamamatsu Textile Shop")
    A wealthy young girl and her samurai servant arrive at the Hamamatsuya kimono shop to buy for her wedding trousseau. While looking at material, the shop assistants witness the girl steal a piece of crepe and the pair is accused of theft. There is a scuffle and she is hit on the forehead with an abacus.
    The servant, however, proves that the crepe was actually bought elsewhere and that it belongs to them. Appalled by the mistake, the master of the shop is about to hand over some money in compensation when a mysterious gentleman disguised as a samurai enters. This is actually Nippon Daemon, the leader of the Shiranami, "White Wave" gang of thieves.
    He exposes the girl and her servant as the thieves Benten Kozo and Nango Rikimaru. The actor who plays the leading role of Benten Kozo must also be an accomplished onnagata as his change from demure young maiden to a brash thief is the highlight of this play. He lowers the sleeve of his kimono to reveal his brightly tattooed arm and delivers his famous speech of introduction full of self-importance beginning with Shiraza itte kikase yasho, "If you don't know me, then listen well." This is one of Kabuki's most famous speeches, and is delivered mainly in shichi go cho, or seven-five metre.
    In reality, they are all members of the gang and Daemon's plan is to ingratiate himself with the shop by exposing this petty theft and then attempt a much grander scam. To avoid a scandal, however, the master gives Benten and Nango some money after all and they leave.

Act IV, Inasegawa Seizoroi ("The Gathering along the Inase River Bank")
    This short riverbank scene is famous for its spectacular costumes and the beautiful set of cherry trees in full bloom, as well as for the speeches and dramatic mie poses of the five thieves as they name themselves before fighting with the police.
    The thieves are making their escape and enter along the hanamichi in splendid kimono holding open umbrellas decorated with the characters for shiranami, the name of the gang. Surrounded by the police, one by one they introduce themselves with tales of their upbringing and lives of crime. The scene closes in a spectacular tableau as the police attempt to make their arrests.
    Occasionally two further short scenes are performed in which Benten, atop a temple roof, commits seppuku (suicide); and perched high on a temple gate, Nippon Daemon proudly surrenders.

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