Kabuki Summaries I
by Hisao Watanabe
Edited by R. Jeffrey Blair
rough machine translation ... [ Eng=>Jpn ]
The following summaries can be found on this page.
The first scene takes place outside a sumo wrestling enclosure, where the last match of the day is going on between two wrestlers, Nuregami, the favorite and certain winner, and the young upstart Hanaregoma. When the contest is over the spectators pour out, talking excitedly because Nuregami has lost.
As the story unfolds we find out that the match was thrown. The truth is that Nuregami, a noted wrestler from Osaka, wanted to help his merchant patron, Yogoro, to whose father he was much indebted. Yogoro wanted to win the hand of his favorite geisha girl, Azuma, as his mistress. But Hanaregomašs samurai patron also wanted to buy Azuma from the geisha house. So, hoping to help his merchant patron, Nuregami purposely lost the match so that Hanaregoma would get a promotion and would then owe Nuregami a favor. That favor was that Hanaregoma would try to dissuade his samurai patron from taking Azuma from the geisha house, so that Nuregami's patron could have her. The two wrestlers meet in front of the sumo enclosure. The young bluffing Hanaregoma gets angry when he hears the truth, as he had been elated over his victory, believing he had won by his own power. Nuregami tries to placate him, but Hanaregoma shows no sign of reconciliation.
This play is the second half of Futatsu Chocho Kuruwa Nikki, and closely related to the former play in which Chogoro killed a samurai out of a sense of obligation to his patron Yogorošs father. Now Chogoro is an infamous criminal wanted by the police. He calls on his real mother, Oko, who has remarried and lives in rural Yahata with her foster son, Yohei, and his wife, Ohaya. Chogoro intends to surrender himself to the law after one final meeting with his mother. Oko and Ohaya receive him warmly. Then Oko listens to his whole story.
Having been summoned by the local magistrate, however, Yohei is out. To his great joy Yohei is allowed to inherit both his deceased father's name, Jujibei, and his duties. From the time of his father's death until this moment, he has had to be satisfied with his lowly status as a poor merchant. Now he has become a fine, respectable policeman. Ironically, his first assignment is to arrest Chogoro, the foster brother he has never met. The manhunt for Chogoro is being carried out round-the-clock. While another party takes charge of the search in the daytime, Jujibei is ordered to conduct it at night. He receives from the magistrate his truncheon and a personal description of Chogoro. Still unaware that his foster brother is the very person wanted by the police, Jujibei returns home triumphantly.
When Jujibei arrives home, Chogoro keeps out of his sight. Oko asks him about the personal description that is being circulated, so that Chogoro can disguise himself and escape from the village without being recognized. Jujibei becomes vaguely aware of the presence of someone upstairs. Ostentatiously he announces, "It's night. It is about time I went out to do my duty."
He leaves the house and quietly goes round to the back yard with the intention of arresting the intruder, whom he now supposes is Chogoro. Yet as he eavesdrops on Oko and Chogoro, he gradually comes to have compassion for Chogoro. He realizes that Chogoro must have suffered countless hardships as an orphan, while he enjoyed a happy life with loving parents who provided him with everything. Finally, he resolves to let Chogoro go, even at the sacrifice of his post.
When Jujibei allows Chogoro to make his escape, it is night. In those days it was the custom to close the skylight shutters at night. Jujibei takes full advantage of the custom to rationalize his actions. As it gets darker and darker and his wife is about to shut the door of the skylight, he makes sure that Chogoro's escape route remains open by calling out, "It is too early to close the shutters. It is still daytime." The implication, since his duty begins only at night, therefore, is that he need not arrest his foster brother. He used the door as a pretext to escape his duty. As the keyword of the drama--often repeated by Jujibei, his wife, and Oko-- "hikimado" (skylight) has become the name of this drama.
The drama starts in the precincts of Dojoji Temple where your eyes are drawn to the great hanging bell. The priests of the temple are happy with this new bell, which has just recently been dedicated. There has not been a bell in the temple for a long, long time. The following story explains why:
According to legend the temple used to have a handsome priest named Anchin, with whom a young girl named Kiyo-hime fell in love. Since he was a priest, he tried to discourage her affection. But she could not forget him and continued to pursue him with great persistence. Finally after all these attempts had been thwarted, her passionate love for him turned into a deep hatred; and she turned into a fierce, fire-breathing serpent. The terrified priest ran to Dojoji Temple and hid beneath its huge bell, which the abbot lowered over him. In frustration the serpent coiled itself around the bell and poured fire out from its mouth until the bell melted and the priest burned to death.
Since then no women have been allowed to enter the temple precincts on any account. For a long, long time the temple made do without a bell. But then, just recently, a new bell has been constructed and dedicated. Today a pretty, young girl appears and introduces herself as Hanako, a dancer traveling around the country. She says that she has heard of the new bell at Dojoji Temple and come out of curiosity to see it. Although she is, at first, refused admittance, her disappointment is so great that it moves the priestsš stern hearts. At last they accept her offer to dance in the bellšs honor and allow her to enter the grounds.
First she dances with a hat, then with a hand towel, then with one after another. Before long her dancing arouses some strange feelings in the priests for every time she changes her kimono she emits an enigmatic aura. Remembering the story of Anchin and Kiyo-hime, the priests begin to drive her out of the temple. But she just gives them a sardonic smile and climbs atop the huge bell, revealing herself to be the spirit of Kiyo-hime.
Kochiyama, disguised as a poor priest, is in fact the leader of a gang. One day when he calls on a pawnbroker, he finds out that the shopkeeperšs daughter is being kept in the palace of Matsue against her will. This is because Namiji, who serves Matsue as a maid-in-waiting, has refused the daimyošs demand that she become his concubine. Her parents and relatives wish her to return home and marry a suitable young man that they have chosen. This gives Kochiyama an idea for a scheme that will exploit the situation.
Because Namiji will not yield to his demand, Matsue is angry and threatens to kill her. He is only prevented from doing so by the intervention of Kazuma. Taking advantage of his masteršs rage to poison his mind against Kazuma, an evil character named Daizen tells Matsue that Namiji and his rival, Kazuma, are secret lovers. Matsue summons Kozaemon, but before he can order an inquiry,the arrival of a messenger from the Archbishop of Kanei Temple is announced. The messenger introduces himself as Kitadani no Dokai, a high ranking priest in the temple and asks for a private interview. In fact, this priest is Kochiyama in disguise.
When he and Matsue are alone, he informs him that the archbishop has heard through private sources that Matsue is refusing to release a young girl in his service, whose family wishes her to return home. The archbishop is highly scandalized by such behavior and has commanded the messenger to inquire into the affair and personally escort the young girl home to her parents. In response to Matsuešs refusal, Kochiyama hints that, if his wishes are not obeyed, the archbishop may feel it his duty to make the scandal public. He succeeds in making Matsue so uneasy that eventually he agrees to let Namiji go. When the lord has withdrawn, his retainers offer Kochiyama food and drink. He refuses, asking instead for "a cup of golden-colored tea" by which, he makes it clearly understood, he means a considerable present of money. It is brought to him by Kazuma, who thanks him for saving both Namiji and himself from their lordšs displeasure. Left alone with the money, Kochiyama drops his saintly mask for a moment and anxiously examines the money to find out the exact amount. Then a clock in the room, very rare in that era, rings. This scene is depicted comically.
Kochiyama, with the money in his bosom, is about to make his departure when he is stopped by Daizen. Daizen once had dealings with Kochiyamašs gang and recognizes the priest by a mole on his left cheek. Kochiyama tries to brush the matter off, but realizes that it is in vain. Shedding his saintly manner, he reveals his true colors to the assembled retainers, describing how he came to the place Ņentirely out of pity for the poor girl kept here against her willæ. He points out how very much the Lord of Izumošs reputation will suffer if he, Kochiyama, is arrested and the story becomes public. Furthermore, he adds, he could tell the police many interesting facts about the past of his accuser, Daizen. Kozaemon overhears the conversation and realizes that it is wise not to arrest Kochiyama now. He apologizes politely to the once again saintly messenger for the grave error committed by Daizen and begs him to go on his way. Kochiyama shows his contempt for Matsue and then leaves the castle in triumph.
On an evening in the early spring snow is falling heavily outside a noodle shop. Two men come into the little shop and ask the way to Oguchiro, a dormitory where a courtesan named Michitose has gone to revive her spirits and regain her health. When they have gone on their way, a man appears, shielding himself from the snow with his umbrella. Naojiro, an ex-samurai, now bears the ironic nickname Naozamurai (the faithful samurai). As a prominent member of the Kochiyama Gang, he is the object of a massive manhunt. Thus he cautiously approaches the shop and makes sure that it is empty before entering.
While Naojiro is drinking, another client comes in, an old blind man. While eating his noodles, old Joga explains to the shop owner that he is a masseur on his way to Oguchiro. The well-known courtesan Michitose has fallen ill and, according to rumor, it is because she has been unable to meet her favorite lover. Overhearing the conversation, Naojiro decides to see Michitose again before fleeing Edo, writes her a note, follows Joga out of the shop, and asks him to deliver it.
When Joga has gone, Naojiro runs into another member of the Kochiyama Gang, Ushimatsu, who warns him that the police are close on his trail. He had better clear out of Edo while he still has the chance. To himself, Ushimatsu thinks that if he tips off the police agents, allowing them to arrest Naojiro, he might save his own skin. The two men who came to the noodle shop before are, in fact, police agents on their way to keep a lookout on Michitosešs dormitory in hopes of catching her fugitive lover. Ushimatsušs loyalty to the gang struggles for a while with his self-interest. Finally he decides to betray his friend and follows him stealthily.
Having received Naojiro's letter, Michitose is waiting for him in breathless anticipation. Although he somewhat reluctantly appears, she receives him in great delight. She throws herself sobbing into her lover's arms, asking him reproachfully why he has been away so long. Naojiro confesses that he is not the wealthy samurai she supposes him to be, but merely a common criminal. Since he intends to flee Edo, he continues, she had best forget him. Michitose, contrary to his expectations however, confesses that she has always known who he really is. Moreover, she has planned, if he were caught and executed, to take her own life at the same moment, so that they might be reborn together in a future life.
Kihei, the dormitory watchman, comes to sympathize with the pair of lovers and suggests that they flee Edo together. But it is already too late. The police burst into the dormitory. Naojiro escapes through the garden into the dark night, leaving Michitose wildly calling out his name. From the darkness come his last words, "Mitchi! You are the last girl for me, but I will not see you anymore."
Imagine that the Sumida River flows across the stage from left to right. Upstage is the Mukojima side, while down stage lies Asakusa. During the New Yearšs holiday it used to be very common for people to make a first-of-the-year visit to Mukojima where there are temples and shrines dedicated to each of the Seven Gods of Good Luck. Benten (the Goddess of Fortune), for example, is enshrined at Chomei Temple, and Jurojin (the God of Longevity) at Shirahige Shrine.
Today, too, the ferryboat shuttling between Asakusa and Mukojima is prospering. Among the passengers are a carpenter, a geisha girl, and a white sake seller. There are seven in all, if we include the boatwoman. This scene is reminiscent of the Seven Gods sailing into port on New Yearšs Eve with a boat full of treasures.
A couple of "manzai" comedians arrive in a flurry and are just barely in time for the boatšs departure to Mukojima. This play highlights the cheerful and comical dances performed in turn by each character.
The year is 1655, the place is Edo (modern day Tokyo), and it is the cherry blossom season. Aoyama Harima is a member of the Shiratsuka Group, an elite band of young vassals of Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna (1641-1680). He leads a rambunctious, flamboyant life and is quarreling every day with a group of chivalrous gangsters in town. Harima has secretly fallen deeply in love with Okiku. He is Okiku's very first lover, and she is as much in love with him as he is with her. They promise each other that they will be married.
One day Harima receives a proposal of marriage by way of his aunt. Knowing this, Okiku gets carried away by her imagination and cannot sit still. Wild fantasies, one after another, occur to her. In order to ascertain Harima's true mind, she finally breaks one of ten precious plates, heirlooms which have been handed down through many generations of the Aoyama family. In those days, whoever broke such an heirloom, whether on purpose or by mistake, would be beheaded without fail. Yet Okiku dared to commit just such an unpardonable act. Consequently, the whole house is thrown into great confusion. When Harima first hears of the incident and is told that Okiku has mistakenly broken a plate, he pardons her. Vowing that his love towards her hasn't change in the least, he insists that she is his only sweetheart. Later, however, when he comes to know all the facts, and she has confessed directly to him, his mind suddenly changes. He flies into a rage and castigates her, saying, "You may be satisfied to have confirmed my devotion, but I am chagrined that you suspected the purity of my heart." Finally, he breaks the nine remaining plates, kills her, and throws the body down a well.