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July Grand Kabuki

at : Shinbashi enbujo Theatre
2011.07.02 - 2011.07.26
Kanjincho (“The Subscription Scroll”)
DanjuroBenkei  ebizoTogashi
    This play is classed as a Jidaimono, history play and a Matsubamemono, play derived from the No theatre – in this case the play, Ataka. It was the first play to be included in Danjuro VII's collection of favourite plays known as the Kabuki Juhuchiban.
    The music is Nagauta by Kineya Rokusaburo IV and the choreography by Nishikawa Senzo IV. The lyrics are by Namiki Gohei III.
    It was first performed in 1840 by Ichikawa Danjuro VII at the Kawarasaki-za, Edo. The character of Benkei is performed in the aragoto acting style.

    Set in the late twelfth century, the play depicts an episode from the life of general Minamoto Yoshitsune. Accompanied by a small group of trusted retainers, he is escaping from the jealous wrath of his older brother, the shogun Yoritomo. Yoshitsune's right-hand man is the warrior priest Benkei, and it is he who suggests the retainers disguise themselves as mountain ascetics called Yamabushi, and Yoshitsune as their porter. Hearing rumours of this, Yoritomo orders new road barriers set up in order to stop and interrogate all such Yamabushi.
    On their way north, they reach the Ataka barrier where they must confront the barrier guard Togashi. Benkei speaks for his group, declaring that they are sent on a fund raising mission for the rebuilding of Todaiji temple. He is challenged by Togashi to produce and read out the list of subscribers (the Kanjincho of the play's title) that all fund raisers were bound to possess. Not having such a Kanjincho, Benkei is forced to bluff by improvising the contents from an empty scroll. He ends with the impressive Fudo mie, a pose copying the iconography of the Buddhist deity Fudo, guardian protector of the Yamabushi.
    Still dubious, Togashi interrogates Benkei about the complicated symbolism of the Yamabushi costume and this fierce verbal exchange, called Yamabushi mondo, is famous for its escalating pace and tension. Benkei concludes with the defiant Genroku mie pose.
    Benkei's knowledge is impressive and Togashi allows them to pass. One of his soldiers then points out the figure of the porter who resembles Yoshitsune. To allay their suspicions, Benkei is forced to beat Yoshitsune with his staff as though punishing the porter. Togashi is now certain that this group is indeed Yoshitsune and his men but, deeply moved by Benkei's loyalty, he decides to allow them through the barrier, even though he knows he must pay for this later with his own life.
    Having passed safely and now a short distance from the barrier, Yoshitsune resumes his rightful position as lord of his group. As beating one's lord was an act of grave disloyalty Benkei sheds tears for the first time in his life, but Yoshitsune forgives him in a moving display of affection between lord and retainer.
    Suddenly Togashi reappears. Claiming to feel sorry that he treated them so badly at the barrier, he offers Benkei some sake which is eagerly accepted. After drinking copious amounts, Benkei entertains with the Ennen no Mai "dance of longevity", beginning with slow, circular movements and gradually increasing in speed and excitement. The lyrics tell of an ideal landscape where the power of nature reigns eternally.
    Seeing that Togashi is momentarily off guard while he watches the dance, Benkei signals for his group to leave at once and they hasten on their way. Benkei bids Togashi a moving farewell and the curtain is closed. Alone on the hanamichi, Benkei feels relieved and elated. He performs his famous bounding tobi roppo exit as he rushes to catch up with his lord.
ebizoKo Rikishi
    A play first written in 1951, this was originally written by the popular writer Osaragi Jiro for the Shimpa theatre. This 3 act play was first performed as Kabuki in 1997 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Osaragi Jiro's birth.
The story is about Yokihi, or Yang Guifei, a famous figure in Chinese history whose beauty is known to have destroyed the country. She was a consort of the Tang emperor, Xuan Zong, whose strong love for her endangered the Tang dynasty until a man named An Lu-Shan forced the emperor to flee the capital. The rebellion ended with the death of Yang Guifei.
In this play, the writer Osaragi Jiro has focused on the relationship between Yokihi and a eunuch named Ko Rikishi who eventually kills her.
Osaragi Jiro wrote several plays featuring Ichikawa Danjuro XI (1909-1965) and in July 2011 Ichikawa Ebizo performed for the first time, the role of Ko Rikishi, the eunuch.

Act I, A Taoist Temple
    Tenshin has come to live in the temple after a failed marriage. Her sisters visit her and find Tenshin in good spirits. She is living comfortably in the temple, hoping for a bright future.
After her sisters leave, Tenshin asks her maid about a handsome man named Ko Rikishi who has come to the temple recently. To her great joy, the maid tells her that he has actually come to see Tenshin, a noted beauty.
Tenshin's cousin, Yo Kokuchu comes to the temple, having been sent by Ko Rikishi. Tenshin's heart jumps when she hears the name of the man she loves, but soon learns that she is to be summoned to become the emperor's consort. She refuses but after hearing that Ko Rikishi is a eunuch, she resigns herself to go to the imperial palace.
Ko Rikishi himself comes with the imperial order. Tenshin is granted the name Yokihi and is asked to change into the fine robes brought from the imperial palace. Yokihi's family is overwhelmed with joy as they think of the wealth and power that they will now possess. Her heart heavy, Yokihi prepares to go to the imperial palace.

Act II, The Garden at the Imperial Palace
    Ten years have passed since Yokihi became the emperor's consort and the emperor has been lavishing money on her.  
In the peony garden they meet the poet Ri Haku. He has been asked by the emperor to compose a poem on the beauty of the peonies, which implies the beauty of Yokihi. The poet, however, leaves the garden saying that he is unable to compose a poem without wine.
The emperor comes to the garden with Yokihi. They find the poet's brush and ink, and Yokihi remarks how the drunken poet has recently acted rudely toward Ko Rikishi. The poet returns and likens Yokihi to a famous beauty of the Han dynasty which only upsets Yokihi even more.
Ko Rikishi comes with a message from Yokihi telling Ri Haku not to come to the imperial palace again. The poet is aware that he upset her when he previously made Ko Rikishi take off his shoes. He leaves the palace leaving behind a poem about the beauty of the blossoms and the country that is about to meet its downfall.
Yo Kokuchu, an official and Yokihi's cousin, informs Ko Rikishi that one An Rokusan, an imperial emissary has raised an army. They are surprised by this news, as An Rokusan has been close to Yokihi. They decide to keep this news from the emperor for the time being.
Yokihi returns, but is drunk. As she stumbles, she insists that Ko Rikishi should help her, not her women attendants. She finally reveals that she has been in love with him from the first time they met. But just when Ko Rikishi is tempted by her words, she criticizes him for his rudeness.
Yo Kokuchu comes to inform that there is a rebellion, and that the army is trying to expel the Yo family from the empire. Yokihi maintains a dignified manner and says that the rebels should all be executed.

Act III, Bakai-eki ("The Mawei Station")
    About one year has passed since the previous scene. The emperor has fled the imperial capital and has come to a village in the countryside. Yokihi arrives with her attendants and insists on putting on her make-up before the emperor arrives.
The emperor arrives with his men and soon learns that the rebels are demanding that the emperor hand over Yokihi. The emperor asks Ko Rikishi what they should do but Ko Rikishi replies that the emperor should make his decision himself.
Yokihi, on the other hand, is willing to sacrifice herself to the enemy forces. This upsets Ko Rikishi and he tells the emperor to kill her himself before the rebels kill her. The emperor refuses to do such a thing. As Ko Rikishi expected, the emperor asks him to kill her instead.
Ko Rikishi reveals to Yokihi that he will let no one else but himself take her life. As they struggle, he kills her, strangling her with her scarf.
Yokihi's dead body is handed over to the rebels. Ko Rikishi alone is contented while the emperor and the attendants shed tears of grief. As the play ends, the emperor wonders if this sacrifice will bring peace to his empire.
Kagami jishi (“The Mirror Lion”)
ebizoYayoi, later The spirit of shishi
    Kagami Jishi is a Shosagoto, dance and is included in the collection of new favourite plays, the Shin Kabuki Juhachiban. The Nagauta music is by Kineya Shojiro III and the choreography by Ichikawa Danjuro IX and Fujima Kan'emon II. The lyrics are by Fukuchi Ochi.
It was first performed in 1893 by Danjuro IX at the Kabuki-za in Tokyo. Certain sections are based on the No play Shakkyo ("Stone Bridge") and this dance was adapted from Makura Jishi ("The Pillow Lion"), 1742. The word shishi refers to a mythical lion-like beast considered holy and associated with the Buddhist deity Monju.

    Set in Chiyoda Castle, the shogun's residence in Edo, the young maid Yayoi is ordered to dance with a wooden shishi head as part of the New Year festivities. Her performance will take place in a spacious room, at the side of which is an altar set with a pair of such shishi heads, sake and offerings of kagami mochi (rice cakes shaped like ancient circular mirrors). It is from these kagami rice cakes that the dance gets its name.
    Two ladies-in-waiting briefly explain the proceedings to two retainers before going to fetch Yayoi so that she can rehearse. The men retire to watch from the side. When she is brought in Yayoi is bashful and reluctant to perform, but the ladies push her into the middle of the room and leave quickly. Now alone, Yayoi nervously begins.
    The introductory lyrics suggest Yayoi's innocent adolescence, her life spent closeted in the women's quarters of the castle where men are forbidden and where she entertains herself with girlish dreams of romance. The topic of love reminds her of courtesans' dances at Ise where the Kawasaki folk songs are famous. Known as Kawasaki Ondo, this is the first musical highlight.
    Yayoi's own character is described in a section punning on hair styles and ornaments, her sleek tresses typical of a "headstrong" young woman frustrated to live under the watchful gaze of older serving ladies.
    Only rarely is she allowed on outings to view the spring blossoms. Yayoi dances with a small ladies' fan as the lyrics evoke beautifully a landscape of mountain hamlets, valleys, and rushing streams. She recalls the Hida folk dances performed in the countryside where young maidens plant rice-seedlings in the fifth month. Yayoi sees a bush warbler suddenly taking to the air and she follows its upward path with her eyes.  
    She imagines blossoming peonies, their large petals tumbling softly to the ground, and dances with a pair of weighted fans, spinning them or flipping them one over the other in a section famous for its demanding technique. At last, the idea of peonies leads to the mention of the shishi lion that always gambols among peony flowers. The shishi is the "king of beasts",the peony, the "king of flowers".
    With the appearance of the shishi, the lyrics transport us to a divine landscape high on a sacred mountain where a stone bridge spans a deep ravine. This bridge is not man-made and cannot be crossed by ordinary mortals, for on its farther side lies the Buddhist Paradise.
    Yayoi now goes to the small altar and takes one of the carved shishi heads in her hand. Mysteriously, two butterflies appear in the room and as she glances up at one of them, she does not notice that the shishi head comes alive. The head becomes violent as it darts at the other butterfly and Yayoi is quickly overcome, dragged against her will down the hanamichi.
    There is an interlude featuring the two butterfly spirits transformed into a pair of young girls who dance with small drums and tambourines as the lyrics bemoan the fleeting nature of time and the brevity of a butterfly's life.
    Finally, the spirit of the shishi itself enters on the hanamichi danced by the same actor who performed Yayoi. In a costume based on that seen in No but with a longer trailing wig, the shishi is teased into a frenzy by the butterflies, eventually swinging the wig around its head repeatedly in the spectacular finale of the dance.
Edo no Yubae (“The Evening Glow of Edo”)
DanjuroDomae Daikichi  ebizoHonda Koroku
    The play was written by popular novelist Osaragi Jiro in 1953. The story takes place during the turbulent times after the fall of the Shogunate government. The play focuses on a man who is still willing to fight for the Shogun and his friend who has already resigned himself to accept the new era.
The play is directed by Ichikawa Danjuro XII.

Act I  Riverbank at Tsukiji
    The year is 1868. The new Meiji government has been established after the fall of the Shogunate government. In the city of Edo where the Shogun had been seated for more than 260 years, the people are still reluctant to accept the new government which is headed by the boorish Loyalist force from the provincial Kyushu region.
At the bay, the battleships which belonged to the Shogunate lie at anchor. There is a rumour that the Shogunate remnants are plotting to sail to the northern Hokkaido to join the last battle against the Loyalists. Many Edo citizens are expecting the Shogun's men to fight against the Loyalist force.
Koroku, a man loyal to the Shogun comes by, heading for the battleship. One of the guards stops him, and he ends up cutting down the guard. Shinbei the boatman has been watching the incident but decides not to report to the authorities, as he too is hoping that the Shogunate would fight against the Loyalists in Hokkaido. Ocho, daughter of the proprietor of the Amitoku boathouse comes by and Shinbei goes off with her, secretly worrying about the Shogunate man.

The Amitoku Boathouse
????The new government has prohibited all boats from sailing, and the boatmen are idling at the boathouse with nothing to do. Shinbei is among them and he is still concerned about the man that killed the Loyalist guard.
In a room upstairs, Riki the geisha is drinking with her lover Domae Daikichi, who used to be a Shogunate retainer and is the nephew of the Shogunate lord Matsudaira Kamon. Daikichi is now unemployed and is living off his lover Riki. He happens to hear the boatmen speaking ill of him, saying that he did not fight to the death when the Loyalist force entered Edo. Daikichi was against the idea of fighting in the city, as it would be meaningless to lose the lives of the innocent citizens of Edo.
Koroku comes to the boathouse asking for a boat to Shibahama which is a place on the bay where another boat would pick him up to reach the battleship. Daikichi realizes that it is Koroku, his cousin Tose's fiance. Daikichi tries to persuade Koroku to stay, but Koroku refuses to listen to a weak-kneed man like Daikichi. Koroku also reveals that he has sent Tose a farewell letter to break off the engagement.
Suddenly Shinbei offers to take Koroku to Shibahama. Riki says that they should take her along, as a geisha on a boat would make them look like a moon-viewing party.

Riverbank at Tsukiji
    Daikichi begins to worry about Koroku, and decides to go with Ocho to confirm Koroku's safety. On the way he sends Ocho back, and walking alone, he meets Tose. She has received Koroku's farewell letter and has come searching for him. Daikichi tells his cousin that Koroku has already left for the battleship, but that they may be able to catch up with him on the way. She may be able to shout to him from shore that she has no intention of breaking the engagement.
Yoshida Ippeita, an officer of the new government comes by and interrogates them. Yoshida is instantly captivated by Ocho's beauty. After knowing that she is the daughter of Lord Matsudaira Kamon, he arrogantly decides to go to her father's house to claim her.

Act II  'Go' game place
    Lord Matsudaira Kamon now lives in a small house where he is running a gaming room for 'go' (Japanese checkers) to make ends meet. However, the neighbors are unable to use the place, as the owner of the gaming room is still a proud samurai who is not accustomed to the informal ways of the commoners.
Tose has begun to sew to earn money and Oriki often comes to bring her some clothes to sew. Oriki is now teaching dance to earn a living for herself and Daikichi. She comes to the house to bring the sewing to Tose, but Daikichi, who has accompanied her, refuses to enter the house as he is still afraid of his uncle Matsudaira.
Matsudaira Kamon returns home after Daikichi and Oriki have left. He is accompanied by a couple of former retainers of the previous government who are urging him to accept a post in the new government. Matsudaira refuses and adds that he will not hand his daughter over to Yoshida, the government official who is infatuated with her.
Yoshida Ippeita himself comes to the house and arrogantly demands that Matsudaira hand Tose over to him. Matsudaira flatly refuses to obey the order, and says that Tose is engaged to be married to another man.

Act III   Soba shop at Iikura
    Koroku is at the soba noodle shop. He has returned from the defeated battle at Hakodate in Hokkaido. Okin, a mistress of an abbot of the neighborhood temple comes in and begins to gossip with the soba shop proprietor about a samurai family that is running a go gaming room. The family has been evicted from the house by some government officials and Koroku is surprised to know that they are talking of the family of his fiancée. They continue to talk of how an evil official had demanded the lord's daughter and how he had ordered the family's eviction from the house after lord Matsudaira had refused to obey the official.
After Okin leaves the shop, Koroku asks where the family had gone. The proprietor becomes suspicious of him and he insists that he is not acquainted with the lord's family. Just then Daikichi comes in. He is astonished to see Koroku here but Koroku at first refuses to talk to him. Daikichi tries to persuade Koroku to go meet Tose but Koroku says that he is not in a position to do so. Koroku maintains his stubborn attitude and Daikichi finally says that he will force Koroku to meet Tose.
Tose and Riki pass by the soba shop, unaware of the two men inside. An apprentice of the shop informs them that Koroku has returned from Hakodate and is at the shop now. Tose rushes inside and is finally reunited with Koroku.
Together they watch the glowing evening sky over the city of Edo which has been changed to the name Tokyo.

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