Kabuki Summaries II
by Hisao Watanabe
Edited by R. Jeffrey Blair
rough machine translation ... [ Eng=>Jpn ]
The following summaries can be found on this page.
Yuranosuke's master has had a quarrel with a fellow lord called Kira during an important ceremony. The master was sentenced to death by the government, which was partial to Kira. Yuranosuke and his followers cannot accept the unfair judgment, so they are now plotting Kira's assassination.
Yuranosuke's plot for revenge, however, has become known, so he has ostentatiously begun to indulge himself at the Ichiriki Tea House in order to deceive the Kira family. Kudayu and one of Kira's retainers arrive to spy on Yuranosuke and to see whether he really has given up his intention to carry out his revenge. His former companions come and try to sober him, but in vain. One day Yuranosuke's son, Rikiya calls on his father in the tea house with an important letter which was sent secretly from Kaoya, a high ranking lady. The letter tells Yuranosuke about Kira's secret schedule, which nobody but she knows. Yuranosuke is about to read the letter when Kira's spy Kudayu, appears beneath the verandah. Coincidentally Okaru comes into the next room to cool her flushed face. She notices and tries to read the letter, for fun, as reflected in her mirror. Thus the letter's contents are silently witnessed by Kudayu and Okaru. Suddenly a pin drops from Okaru's hair and Yuranosuke, seeing her, quickly rolls up the letter, a part of which is torn off. He demands that Okaru come forward and then purposely pretends to fall in love with her. His true intention though, is not to let her mention the matter in question until three days have passed and his plan has been executed. He adds that she will be free after three days. He goes off, leaving Okaru, who is going to write a joyful letter to her lover, Kampei.
She is interrupted by her brother Heiemon, who is one of Yuranosuke's loyal retainers and also wants to join the league to avenge their lord. When Heiemon hears from her that she has been redeemed by Yuranosuke, he thinks that his master has been indulging to much with wine and women and is certainly not dreaming of revenge. Okaru defends Yuranosuke and confesses to her brother what she read in the letter. Hearing her remarks, Heiemon judges that Yuranosuke must be going to kill her to keep the secret from being leaked out. He draws his sword and is about to kill her for his master but before doing so, Heiemon informs her that her lover Kampei committed seppuku because of a trap set by Kudayu's group. Okaru faints at the terrible news. When she has recovered, she says that she is willing to die now, since she will be able to join Kampei in heaven. As she is about to commit suicide Yuranosuke appears. He praises Okaru and her brother for their loyalty and adds that though her lover Kampei joined the secret league, he had no chance to serve with them. Yuranosuke hands his own sword to Okaru and has her thrust it into the floor of the verandah where Kudayu is hiding, thus enabling her to revenge her lover's death. Yuranosuke's plans for revenge have now only just begun.
Two young brothers, Soga no Juro and Soga no Goro, seek to avenge the death of their father, who was killed in a private quarrel. The elder Juro is a thoughtful person, unlike Goro who is a hot-blooded youth. Their enemy is Suketsune, a man who has risen to become a powerful daimyo and councilor to the shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo.
Their task is not, therefore, an easy one. They have a friend, Kobayashi Asahina, who is a retainer of Suketsune. Through this friend they arrange to attend the daimyošs party to celebrate his new inauguration. During the party, Goro tries to kill Suketsune, but Juro reproves him for his bad manners. Defying the brothers, Suketsune throws at them two admission cards to a hawking event that is coming up soon. The hawking party will be held at Suketsune's private preserve at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Suketsune thereby gives the brothers a chance to avenge their father. Realizing Suketsune's intention by the cards, Juro and Goro part from him. Though Suketsune is depicted as an evil man, he is, in reality, so outstanding a figure as to give the two brothers a chance to kill him. Oiso no Tora and Kewaizaka no Shosho appear as the beautiful courtesans of Suketsune's mansion. They are the mistresses of Juro and Goro.
When Yoshitsune distinguished himself in battle against the Heike, his half-brother and head of the Genji clan, Yoritomo, felt his own leadership threatened and grew jealous. Eventually Yoritomo sent troops after Yoshitsune, who fled with a small band of his faithful followers. Yoshitsune would not allow Shizuka Gozen, his concubine, to join him in their perilous flight, but gave her a hand-drum as a love token and put her under the protection of his faithful retainer Sato Tadanobu. But, unknown to either of them, this Tadanobu is in reality a fox-spirit that has taken the form of the real Tadanobu, who is taking care of his sick mother.
Shizuka, however, is determined to rejoin her lover and sets out after him. Traveling through the mountains, where the cherry trees are in full bloom, she and Tadanobu stop for a rest by a tree in the forest. Suddenly she becomes aware that Tadanobu has disappeared. To console herself she begins to play the hand-drum. At the sound of the drum, he reappears at her side. Thinking that he had been away on a foraging expedition, she is very surprised.
They dance together while singers chant the tale of the adventurous journey Shizuka is making for the sake of love. Thinking of Yoshitsune makes her sad. So, to cheer her up, Tadanobu sets up a suit of armor, which they pretend to be Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune had presented the suit of his own armor to the real Tadanobu, when he had earlier prevented Hayami Tota from capturing Shizuka and the hand-drum. Finally, at Shizuka's request, Tadanobu describes for her in dance the heroic death of Sato Tsugunobu, Tadanobu's elder brother.
As Tadanobu finishes his narrative, Hayami Tota, who has been tracking Shizuka, appears with his men. Infatuated with Shizuka, he tries to seize her. But when he sees Tadanobu, he loses the courage to attack. Tadanobu springs and bounds just like the fox that he really is, driving Tota and his men away. The skins covering the hand-drum which Shizuka carries are those of his parents. And whenever the drum is struck, he is irresistibly drawn to it. Now he follows Shizuka so triumphantly that his true self is revealed in the animal quality of his bounds and gestures.
Izaemon yearns to rendezvous with his favorite courtesan, Yugiri, of Yoshidaya Teahouse. Presently, he is disinherited from his family because of his love for Yugiri, the most celebrated woman of the gay quarters in Osaka. He wanders aimlessly around the streets, thinking about Yugiri. When he learns by chance that she is ill from wanting to meet with him, he becomes determined to see her. Later, Izaemon is irritated by a rumor that Yugiri has recovered from her illness and been visited by a rich client.
Izaemon goes to Yoshidaya Teahouse where Yugiri is working. Through Kizaemon's good offices, Izaemon--who was once a rich, young patron of the house--gets a chance to meet Yugiri. While he is waiting for Yugiri, he cannot tolerate the idea that she has a new patron and he imagines that they are on good terms with each other in the next room. A sound is heard that makes him dive under the quilt, and he pretends to be asleep as Yugiri enters. She greets him with fondness and treats him well, but he cannot accept her affections meekly. He is cold and angry while Yugiri patiently lets his jealousy work itself out so that they are reconciled. At that moment, Izaemon receives the good news that his mother has relented, and he is no longer disinherited. Messengers bring money and other offerings sent by Izaemonšs mother so that he can redeem Yugiri. The maids of the teahouse make Yugiri hasten into wedding clothes and they prepare a wedding feast. Izaemon has been restored to his former respectable position.
Though Horikawa lies in a capital city, it might as well be a rustic place. Oshun, an ex-prostitute, was born here. Now her brother and mother are leading indigent lives. The brother manipulates monkeys, while the mother teaches ditties to neighboring lasses, for little money. Oshun has been living with them since she was discharged by her master. In fact, he feared lest his shop should be involved in trouble caused by Dembei, Oshun's lover, who killed a man.
On a winter evening, Yojiro returns home from his work. Today too, his earnings are very small, but honest. Yojiro tries to behave merrily lest his mother worry about her daughter, Oshun. Both Yojiro and Ogin feel uneasy when they think about Dembei stealing into their house to see Oshun. They know that the young couple has decided to die together. Therefore, Yojiro and Ogin tell Oshun not to meet with Dembei even if he comes. They implore her to write a farewell letter to him instead. Oshun cannot help obeying their request. She writes a letter. But her mother and brother don't know what is written in it, because the mother is blind and the brother is illiterate.
Night falls, and Dembei comes stealthily. He calls Oshun in a small voice. Of course he wants to die with her. Oshun instantly becomes aware of him. She opens the door quietly. Yojiro notices it. He is so horrified, that he mistakes Dembei for Oshun. As a result he lets Dembei come in and Oshun get out. He shuts the door and locks it. Because of this clamor Ogin wakes up. She also confuses Dembei with Oshun. Finally the mother and son become aware of their mistake. Yojiro recovers his senses in no time flat and thrusts towards Dembei the letter Oshun has written.
At first Dembei rages against Oshunšs fickleness, but as he reads it the content reveals itself. It says that Oshunšs heart will not change whatever may happen and that she wants to die with Dembei to whom she has given her whole life. Looking at Ogin's grief and Yojiro's shock, Dembei reads their thoughts. He can do nothing but to bid farewell to the family and ask them to arrange for his funeral after he dies alone. Oshun bursts into tears. She tries to kill herself by cutting her own throat with the razor she secretly carries with her, but is prevented from doing so by Yojiro. Her mother knows her daughter's true heart for the first time. She apologizes to Dembei for forgetting justice and humanity because of her blind love for Oshun. In tears she allows them to marry and asks them to live as long as possible. Yojiro also agrees with Ogin and suggests that they flee from there, hand in hand. Being struck with emotion, Dembei and Oshun make up their minds to run away. Wishing the young couple good luck on their departure, Yojiro shows an auspicious dance performed by his two monkeys, which are compared to the young couple who are going to their honeymoon and death.
The scene is the center of Edo's licensed red light district. Cherry trees are in full bloom against a hazy spring evening. In front of Miuraya Teahouse are several courtesans who are awaiting their celebrated colleague, Agemaki. They accused Agemaki of being drunk. She protests, but stumbles, and her attendants make her drink some sobering medicine and lead her to a bench to rest.
A letter has been delivered to Agemaki. It is from Sukeroku's mother, who tells Agemaki to cast off her son, because he is supposed to be avenging his father's murder, and that it is no time for him to come constantly to the licensed quarters and waste his time in unseemly brawls. But Agemaki loves Sukeroku so deeply that she cannot bear to pass a night without seeing him.
In the meantime, one of Agemaki's attendants comes, announcing that the elderly samurai, Ikyu, is on his way to visit her. He has been a slave to her love. Shiratama and other ladies in the district enter and Ikyu, followed by his retainers, comes. He is a vicious old man famous in the quarter for his huge white beard, but he has money and is one of Agemakišs best clients. Ikyu at once begins to abuse Sukeroku, calling him a thief. Agemaki admits that she is perhaps foolish to be in love with Sukeroku, but calling him a thief is too much. Although Shiratama tries to calm her down, Agemaki declared that she will never have anything to do with Ikyu again and withdraws, followed by Shiratama and her attendants.
The sound of a flute is heard. Sukeroku enters. The singers chant a love song as he dances. The ladies of the quarter call attention to his purple head band. They crowd around him as he steps onto the stage, offering him tobacco pipes. Ikyu, annoyed at finding himself suddenly deserted, says loudly that he wishes to smoke too, but Sukeroku insolently points out that all the pipes are in use. Sukeroku tries to provoke Ikyu, and after boasting triumphantly of his power over women, offers Ikyu a pipe holding it between his toes. Ikyu is boiling with rage, but prefers not to take up Sukeroku's challenge.
At this point one of Ikyušs retainers, Kampera Mombei, comes out of the house shouting furiously that he has been cheated by an attendant who put him into a bath and left him to stew without joining him there. He turns his anger upon everybody around him. But Kampera and his colleagues are finally routed by Sukeroku. Then Sukeroku makes a famous speech in which he claims to be the number one person in arms and love. Ikyušs retainers attack him, but he throws them down before their master, challenging Ikyu to draw his sword. However hard Sukeroku tries to make Ikyu lose his temper so that he pulls out his sword, Ikyu never draws it saying that his sword is too noble to be spoiled by a thief's blood. Ikyu, his followers and the courtesans withdraw into the house.
When they have gone, the band of ruffians return and set upon Sukeroku, who again disperses them. Among the ruffians is Sukeroku's brother, Shimbei, who is disguised as a sake wine-seller. Sukeroku does not know who the wine-seller really is, until Shimbei discloses his real identity. He protests to his brother about his behavior and reminds him of his oath, made eighteen years ago, to avenge their father's murder. Sukeroku tells his brother that there is reason in his madness. His treasured sword, which was a heirloom of the Soga family, has been stolen from him, and he comes to Yoshiwara, where all classes of people meet, in hopes of finding it. He picks quarrels with all in order to make them draw their swords. Shimbei understands his brother's strategy and offers to help him in the search. Sukeroku tells Shimbei that he believes Ikyu must have the sword since he is the only person who has refused to fight. He then gives a lesson in how to insult strange samurai to provoke them. They try it out on some innocent passers-by and together make them crawl between their legs.
Agemaki's voice is heard. She leads Soga Manko, whose face is hidden under her traveling-hat. Sukeroku tries to pick a quarrel with this supposed samurai and is dumbfounded when he discovers it is his own mother. Soga Manko scolds her two sons for their scandalous behavior. She declares her intention to kill Ikyu and then take her own life. Sukeroku explains the reason for his conduct and shows his firm resolution to kill the familyšs enemy, Ikyu, who is in fact Iga Heinaizaemon. Soga Manko is overjoyed to find her lack of faith in her sons unjustified.
A little later, Ikyu comes out of the house with Shiratama and the others. Sukeroku hides behind Agemakišs skirt as she sits on a bench. Sitting beside Agemaki's skirts Ikyu guesses who must be under the seat and teases Sukeroku, calling him a ditch-rat. At this Sukeroku emerges from his hiding place. Ikyu, calling him by his real name (Soga no Goro), reviles him for haunting the licensed quarters when he should be avenging his father. Ikyu now attempts to trick Sukeroku into making treasonous statements against the government, hoping to use this as a means to his own ends. By drawing an example from a three-legged burner, Ikyu suggests that they could strike at their enemy and even the shogun if the two brothers unite steadfastly like the three-legged incense burner, and that, on the contrary, if they lack harmony, nothing can be done. To demonstrate his metaphor he draws his sword and slices the burner in two. Sukeroku stares at the sword. Ikyu is too late to hide it and quickly enters the house. It is the sword that Sukeroku has been searching for. Sukerokušs mission is accomplished. He resolves to attack Ikyu and demand the return of the sword.
In the evening the bustling quarters of Shinmachi in Osaka are filled with the charming voices of courtesans and their clients. There is to be a banquet in a tea house under the auspices of a rich client devoted to Umegawa, a popular courtesan from the tea house Tsuchiya. But she is not feeling well, because her lover, Chubei, has not come to visit her for several days. Chubei, one of a farmer's many children, married into a family which owns and operates a courier service, Kameya. He had been paying frequent visits to Umegawa at Tsuchiya; they fell deeply in love; and then they continued to meet quietly behind his adopted parents' backs.
Recently, however, a rich man from the country has decided that he wants to redeem Umegawa. So Chubei must come up with an even greater amount for her redemption or lose her. Chubei has managed to pay 50 ryo as an advance deposit, but couldn't scrape up the balance. And this is why he has been avoiding Umegawa. To make matters even more complicated, Chubei's friend and rival for Umegawa's affection, Hachiemon, also offers to redeem Umegawa.
Umegawa writes to Chubei asking him to meet her at Izutsuya, another tea house. Chubei arrives with her letter as she is lamenting to Oen, the mistress of the tea house, about her misfortunes. Chubei is depressed over his inability to come up with the money for Umegawa's redemption. Oen, who has a deep sympathy for the young couple, lets them use one of her rooms to meet in and talk things over. But she suggests that this should be their last meeting and that they should reconcile themselves to their imminent separation.
Chubei, however, cannot bear the thought of giving up Umegawa. After he assures her that he will somehow get the rest of the money, they beseech Oen to convince Jiemon to wait for a few more days. A while later, Jiemon drops by. Explaining that he is deep in debt, he urges Umegawa to accept Hachiemon's kind offer. With great embarrassment, Umegawa desperately entreats Jiemon to wait a little while longer, because Chubei's offer was made earlier than Hachiemon's. If she accepts the latter, everybody in the gay quarters will look down upon her. Moved by this sincere appeal. Jiemon becomes sympathetic and finally consents to give Chubei a little more time.
Chubei and Umegawa disappear upstairs just before Hachiemon makes his entrance and brazenly displays 250 ryo, the whole amount required for Umegawa's redemption. When Jiemon flatly refuses the offer, Hachiemon gets upset and begins to disparage Chubei. "Chubei," he says, "embezzled money from his father-in-law's business and asked me to lend him 50 ryo in order to cover up the matter. I couldn't refuse, because he threatened to commit suicide otherwise." Hachiemon asserts that 50 ryo is just a small amount of money to him, but is a great deal to Chubei. He is sure that Chubei will never be able to pay him back, let alone raise enough money to redeem Umegawa.
Having overheard the discussion, Chubei can't stand to listen anymore and rushes downstairs to refute Hachiemon's remarks. He claims that his father has just recently sent him some money from home. Calling his bluff, Hachiemon asks him where he' s keeping all this money. And Chubei lets him touch a bundle of money he has tucked inside his kimono. It is, in fact, money that he's taking care of for a samurai customer. Teasing him that it must be counterfeit, Hachiemon dares him to break the seal and let them see for themselves. When Chubei complies, everyone around him is horrified. The law stipulates that a trader, like Kameya, who appropriates a customer's money for his own use should be sentenced to death.
Now there is no turning back. While everyone stares at him with bated breath, he lays the gold coins out on the tatami and counts out 300 ryo. Hachiemon gets an uneasy feeling when he realizes his own responsibility in the matter and hurries home. Chubei hands 250 ryo to Jiemon to cover the balance of Umegawa's redemption money and the remaining 50 ryo to Oen for all her help. Thus the redemption has been completed. Oen and her companions leave to supervise the necessary formalities.
No sooner has Oen left than Chubei tries to leave the tea house with Umegawa. For him there is no escape except to commit suicide. He asks her to accompany him to heaven right then. But she says that she'd prefer to be his wife even for only three days before she dies.
Having taken care of the formalities, Oen returns. Though everyone around them seems to be very happy for the young couple, Umegawa and Chubei seem somewhat depressed. Umegawa gives ornamental hairpins and some of her other possessions to her attendants as keepsakes, while Chubei gives a little money to Oen, outwardly as a congratulatory gift, but tacitly as their funeral expenses. They have decided to walk the road of death hand in hand.