Kabuki Index

Kabuki Summaries V
by Hisao Watanabe
Edited by R. Jeffrey Blair

rough machine translation ... [ Eng=>Jpn ]


The following summaries can be found on this page.

  1. Imayo Kasane Kesho no Sugatami--A cursed makeup mirror
  2. Shunkan--Shunkan the exile
  3. Kenuki--Tweezers
  4. Tsuchigumo--The spirit of the ground spider
  5. Narukami--Narukami the saint

Imayo Kasane Kesho no Sugatami

A cursed makeup mirror

Act I, Scene 1 On Mount Ibuki

The scene is Mount Ibuki, deep in the mountains of Omi Province. A lady-in-waiting named Natsuno and a footman named Tsunesuke appear. They are slowly heading for the castle of Lord Hosokawa Katsumoto [1430-1473] with a secret letter. The two used to be attendants of the Sasaki family. Lord Sasaki has been ordered by the government to give up his domain, because Okuni Gozen caused some trouble while her master was absent from the province. She also lost the family treasure, a scroll with a design of a carp on it. At the same time Icho no Mae, the late Lord Sasaki's sister, and her fianc», Motonobu, have set out on a journey in search of the scroll. They escort Toyowaka-maru, the late lord's new-born son, in hopes that with the help of Lord Hosokawa he will be installed at the head of his father's domain after they retrieve the scroll. Unfortunately, however, Natsuno and Tsunesuke are attacked by Danpachi and robbed of the all important letter.

Scene 2 Hair combing by Okuni at Sehei's house

Okuni Gozen, in a state of poor health, is hiding herself at Sehei's house. He had been in her service until she was dismissed from her high position because of an illicit love affair with the late Lord Sasaki's trusted vassal, Motonobu. Her love for Motonobu continues to be so deep that even now she is ill in bed thinking of him. Old Sehei hangs a lantern for her, and a doctor comes to see her. While gossiping he touches upon Motonobu's relationship with Icho no Mae. Upon hearing of it Okuni's face turns livid. Then comes Danpachi with the secret letter to Lord Hosokawa from Motonobu. Okuni sees the letter and fondly remembers Motonobu. Contrary to her expectations, the letter reveals that Motonobu approached Okuni as part of a trick to get the lost scroll. This fact brings her anger to a climax. Despite Sehei's dissuasions and her own ill health, Okuni casts a curse upon Motonobu. Sehei, warning Okuni of her delicate condition, gives her a mirror to see what she is doing to herself. Only then does she realize how haggard her appearance is. She begins making up her face and dressing her hair. Every time she combs her hair strands fall out one after another. Blood even drips from the roots of her hair. Finally her face turns into a maniacal expression of rage. She throws a fierce look in the direction of Motonobu and Icho no Mae luring them back to her.

Scene 3 Gangoji Temple in Yamato Province

At Gangoji Temple Motonobu and Icho no Mae happened to see the same dream, in which Okuni met with a tragic death. Then Sehei comes to hold a memorial service for someone who has died a disturbingly unnatural death. Motonobu and Icho no Mae join him without knowing that it is Okuni that they are praying for. When the charming melody of the koto is heard, something weird and ghostly seethes around the temple. Suddenly Motonobu and Toyowaka disappear behind a bamboo screen. When it is raised there are Motonobu and Toyowaka with the ghost of Okuni, looking as she did just before her death. Holding the sought after scroll, she confronts Icho no Mae with her bitter grudge, and advances towards her threatening to kill Toyowaka and thus exterminate the Sasaki family. Matahei hastily comes forward, unwraps an image of the Goddess of Mercy and points it at Okuni. Suddenly she shrinks under the influence and power of its virtue. Taking advantage of this moment, when her guard is down, Toyowaka and Motonobu escape. As Okuni regretfully clutches the scroll, the temple collapses into ruins around her, and she turns into a grotesque skeleton. The entire area changes into a field full of yellow flowers under a blue moon. Then the ghost of Okuni reappears as she looked in her prime, clad in a beautiful kimono. She ascends into the sky playing with fireflies and exclaiming, "What a grand sight this is!"

Act II, Scene 1 The precincts of Ikuta Shrine

Ikuta Shrine is bustling with sales pitches and the voices of barkers. Among the people is Myorin, currently a mistress in the Izutsu Geisha House. She is looking restlessly for her adopted daughter Kasane, a popular geisha at Izutsu. Myorin is uneasy because Kasane may be reconciled with her estranged husband, Yoemon, now an indigent. He has been raising a small baby (in fact, Toyowaka) but the child is now with a nurse at Toroku's house. Toroku is displeased with Yoemon because he has recently stopped giving him a monthly allowance for the baby's care. Consequently, Toroku handles the little one roughly, with the result that the baby's talisman becomes lost.

Toroku's boss Itto finds it just as Yoemon comes by in the plain clothes of a commoner. This is a good chance for Toroku to ask Yoemon for money. But Yoemon can't afford to pay the allowance. On top of this, he is being urged by Rihei, a pawnbroker, to put a down payment on a scroll which turned up at the pawnshop the other day. Rihei says someone else is offering 300 gold coins for it. Thus Yoemon is driven into a corner. The evil merchant Sukeshiro, however, offers help. Sukeshiro gets Toroku to consent to wait a little more by giving him a small amount of money and somehow persuades Rihei to agree to postpone the deadline for his payment for a while. Sukeshiro realizes that the scroll must be the family treasure of the Sasakis and cunningly changes the scroll in secret for a bamboo blower.

Thanks to this unexpected aid by Sukeshiro, Yoemon has been saved for a little while, but he has no idea how to proceed from here. Kasane appears with some money she has managed to raise for him, but it is not enough. He thanks her for her effort on his behalf and feels great responsibility for making such a naive young lady sacrifice her innocence. When he tries to commit suicide, Kasane stops him and admonishes him for his thoughtlessness. To see the young couple on such good terms Myorin fears that they may get back together again. She urges Kasane into a palanquin she has hired. The rumble of thunder is heard, so Myorin promptly picks up an old sickle as a charm against it and makes off with the palanquin, leaving Yoemon alone in his despair.

A short time later, Yoemon happens to see Lord Hosokawa's vassal Ryosuke. From him Yoemon hears that the Sasaki family will be able to regain its power if they return the scroll. Toroku and his boss Itto come in just as Yoemon has parted from Ryosuke. They have disguised themselves as street performers, but, in fact, they are retainers of Lord Yamana Sozen [1404-1473] who is searching for the last remnants of the Sasaki family in order to eradicate them all. They learn that Yoemon's baby is not his, but Toyowaka, heir to the Sasaki family. A nefarious plan comes to mind.

Scene 2 At the Izutsu Geisha House

Sukeshiro is at the Izutsu Geisha House to expedite his marriage to Kasane. Emerging from a public bath comes Kasane, with a heart full of anxiety about Yoemon. Upon seeing Kasane, Myorin takes a memorial tablet and skull from the Butsudan (Buddhist altar). They are Okuni's. Myorin used to be her maid. By showing these two things to Kasane she persuades her to abandon her idea of becoming Yoemon's wife once again. She goes on to tell her that a woman who falls in love too deeply will end up with a miserable fate. Kasane ostensibly accepts Sukeshiro's proposal of marriage on condition she gets 300 gold coins as a betrothal gift, saying it is for her mother's later life.

Yoemon enters the house only to be confronted by the spectacle of the newly wed couple celebrating with the exchange of nuptial cups. In response to Yoemon's close questioning, Kasane says something to alienate him and thus hide her true intentions. In addition to losing face, Yoemon is ejected from the house by Myorin and Sukeshiro. Yet it goes against Kasane's conscience to have deceived Yoemon and lied to Myorin. She feels compelled to inform Yoemon of her true feelings and that she has gotten the funds he needs. She writes a letter and asks her junior geisha, Kosan, to hand it to him.

Kosan is, in fact , Icho no Mae. Yoemon sheltered her at the Izutsu Geisha House to escape the enemy's attention. Icho no Mae jumps for joy saying, "Thanks to this money the scroll will return to the Sasakis. We can accomplish our task. Then Motonobu and I can get married!!" On hearing the name of Motonobu, Kasane suddenly emits, "It's regretful!!" She seems to be possessed and the room is mysteriously enveloped in an eerie atmosphere. Her gold coins turn into snakes then as if by magic Okuni's skull sticks to Kasane's face.

Icho no Mae dashes toward Kasane and takes it off her, but her face is already horribly disfigured. Kasane is possessed by Okuni's jealous spirit. She suddenly becomes suspicious about the relationship between Yoemon and Icho no Mae, turns on Icho no Mae with a maniacal expression of envy, and raises the sickle over her head preparing to kill her. Barely managing to deflect the blow, Icho no Mae escapes.

Scene 3 The Bank of Kizugawa River

As the thunder rolls, Icho no Mae reaches a bank of the Kizugawa River. She encounters Kasane who once again forestalls her. Icho no Mae desperately denies having a relationship with Yoemon. But Kasane, possessed by Okuni's spirit, turns a deaf ear to her pleas and finally murders her. Seeing this Yoemon, in a fit of anger, stabs Kasane from behind. He manages to revive Icho no Mae, and she miraculously comes back to life thanks to the power of the Moon Seal, the second heirloom which she has secretly kept for the Sasaki family. She shows Yoemon the letter earlier written by Kasane. Thus he comes to realize Kasane's true feelings for him. All he can do now is pray for her, and so he does.

As they leave the scene Yoemon and Icho no Mae pass by Oriku and Sukeshiro. Motonobu also appears. They are all searching for the precious scroll when Oriku discovers that Sukeshiro is carrying it. Then she finds Yoemon's kimono sleeve, stained with Kasane's blood.

Act III, Scene1 Yoemon's house

Yoemon with his sister's help gives shelter to Icho no Mae. Sukeshiro and Rihei come by, bringing a box that is supposed to contain the scroll. Yoemon, at a complete loss as to how to raise the rest of the money for it, snatches the box away, but finds that there is no scroll, only a bamboo blower. Sukeshiro seizes this chance to press Yoemon hard with questions about his sheltering of Icho no Mae and the killing of Kasane. Oriku prevents Sukeshiro from pursuing the matter further. She declares to Yoemon that she will disown him and deprive him of the honorable samurai name, Yoemon, which her late husband held. She goes on to inform him that he had married Kasane without getting her permission. In fact he has, without knowing it, married one of the members of the enemy side. Because Kasane's mother, Myorin, once served Okuni who had schemed to overthrow the Sasaki family with the secret help of Lord Yamana.

Now, Yoemon must return to his former name and status, a lowly townsman named Matahei. Yoemon thinks it the result of his evil deeds and is about to commit suicide with the sickle, and thus take complete responsibility for not being able to comply with his aunt and his master's expectations. At this moment Icho no Mae appears and restrains him from doing so. Then all the people present stand aghast as Oriku tries to take the scroll away from Sukeshiro, who is keeping it hidden in his bosom. His possession of the scroll having been found out, Sukeshiro runs away in a flurry. Yoemon chases after him, but he is unable to move as the possessed Kasane has cast a spell over him. Seeing Yoemon suffer from this spell, Oriku suddenly takes the sickle and stabs herself. She says this is the only way to defeat Kasane's magic power. She reveals that she has been worried about the destiny of the Sasaki clan and thinks Yoemon must do everything in his power for their reinstatement. She knows he killed Kasane because she found Yoemon's sleeve near Kasane's dead body, but Kasane's jealous fury was caused by the power of the snake. Oriku's blood can defeat that power since she was born in the year, the month, the day, and the exact time of the snake according to the zodiac. As Yoemon holds the sickle stained with Oriku's blood, Kasane's ghost vanishes. Yoemon says a quick pray for Oriku's soul and then rushes after the scroll.

Scene 2 Catching carp in the Kizugawa River

At the mouth of the Kizugawa River, Toroku and Itto are about to throw Toyowaka into the river to kill him. He is rescued by Ryosuke who happens to pass by. Next comes Sukeshiro with the scroll still in his bosom and Yoemon in pursuit. The scroll seems to jump out from Sukeshiro's bosom, and strangely enough, the carp depicted on it slips out and begins swimming in the river. The legend of this great picture painted by the great master Tosa Mitsutaka is realized. Yoemon, who when he was known as Matahei used to be Mitsutaka's prot»g», jumps into the river to catch the fish. He manages to hold it down and thrusts his sword into its eyes thereby forcing it to return to the scroll. In the meantime, Sakaki Gozen [1440-1496, maiden name Hino Tomiko], the wife of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa [1436-1490], arrives escorted by Motonobu, and Icho no Mae. Toyowaka, the Sasaki family's heir, is with them. In recognition of Yoemon's daring deed, the reinstatement of his late master's house is authorized by Sakaki Gozen. In addition, Yoemon is nominated as the official chief painter of Ginkakuji Temple to be built in the near future under government auspices. All present celebrate the Sasaki family's continuing prosperity.


Shunkan the exile

In the days when Taira Kiyomori [1118-1181] ruled Japan, there were many attempts to overthrow him, because he was extremely arrogant and relentless in persecuting those who displeased him. One such attempt was made by three men: a priest and two noblemen. Their names were Shunkan, Taira Yasuyori, and Fujiwara Naritsune. Their plot was discovered and they were apprehended at Shunkan's residence. Subsequently all three were exiled to Kikai-ga-Shima, a lonely island some distance from Kyushu. A few years later an amnesty is granted upon the birth of a son to the Empress, Kiyomori's daughter, and the exiles are allowed to return to civilization.

Shunkan and the two other men are living along a rocky shore. Shunkan is old and weak, but is supported by his companions, who still love and respect him. Yasuyori comes to tell him that Naritsune has fallen in love with a pretty, young diver on the island. Shunkan congratulates the young couple and bestows the name Chidori upon the young diver. In the presence of such noble men the young girl cannot remain calm. Shunkan performs the marriage ceremony, but since there is no sake wine for the ceremony, the bride and groom pledge themselves to each other with sea water. Shunkan tells Chidori that if her husnand is pardoned, she will become the Lady of Tambe. Wishing to perform an auspicious dance in honor of the young couple, Shunkan grabs a paulownia leaf and begins. His age and weak physical condition prevent him from dancing well, but he laughs off his poor performance so as not to worry his companions.

At this very moment a ship approaches the island, enters the cove, and disembarks a messenger, Kaneyasu by name. He announces the amnesty. Mercilessly Shunkan's name is not included in the order. But when a second messenger disembarks, he brings with him a second order. Because he was regarded as the leader of the failed plot, Shunkan had been excluded from the amnesty. But, on the intervention of one of Kiyomori's chief councillors, his sentence has been mitigated and he may return as far as Bizen Province in Kyushu. He takes great delight in the news. Taking Chidori with them, the three exiles are about to board, when Kaneyasu stops them. He insists that the girl must be left behind. Protesting, Noritsune informs Kaneyasu that the girl is now his wife. But Kaneyasu continues to deny her passage. When Noritsune states that he too will remain on the island, he is taken aboard by force. Chidori is left alone on the shore.

Shunkan returns and tries to smuggle Chidori aboard the ship, but is prevented by Kaneyasu. Shunkan appeals again to his mercy, but Kaneyasu mocks him and takes pleasure in informing him that he will not find his family awaiting him in Kyushu. He further explains that Shunkan's wife is dead, and his son has long been missing. Overcome with grief and rage, Shunkan finds new strength and, wrestling Kaneyasu's sword away from him, kills his tormentor. He then thrusts Chidori on board, telling Motoyasu that, since he has now forfeited his precious pardon, Chodori can go in his place. All bid Shunkan a sad farewell, and the ship sets sail. Shunkan clings to the mooring rope, his last link with the homeland until it is jerked from his hands. He watches the ship grow small in the distance and climbs from rock to rock trying to keep it in sight, until at last it vanishes over the horizon.



A feud has broken out between two factions of Lord Harumichi's retainers. His daughter, Nishiki-no-Mae, is engaged to be married to Bunya Toyohide. Hata Minbu and the faction of loyal retainers supports this match. But Yatsurugi Genba's group is plotting to usurp power by getting the daughter of marry Genba's son. In order to derail Bunya's neptuals, they have spread rumors that Nishiki-no-Mae has contracted an ominous disease.

As the drama begins there are two men with swords facing off. One, Kazuma, is Genba's son; and the other, Hidetaro, is Minbu's younger brother. When the arrival of an envoy from the court is aonnounced, the fighting stops for a while. The envoy bears a letter demanding the return of a precious card upon which a poem has been written. Because the card is believed to be effective in bringing rainfall, the court wishes to use it in a ritual to end the present drought. Lord Harumichi, who had been given custody of the card, orders his son, Harukaze, to bring him the box in which the card is kept. Harukaze hesitates for he gave the card to his pregnant mistress, Koiso, when he secretly sent her back to her parents to give birth. Ignoring the son's reluctance, Genba opens the box only to find it empty. Harumichi is in a grave predicament and his house is threatened with extinction. The envoy, however, is sympathetic enough to wait for a while to give him a chance to reteive the missing card.

A short while later Kumedera Danjo appears. Nishiki-no-mae's fiance, Bunya, has sent him to check into the delay of the wedding. Genba informs him that the it has been called off on account of her disease. Danjo insists on seeing her for himself, saying that he intends to make a full report of her condition to Bunya. Though embarrassed to let her be seen in such a sorry state, Minbu finally calls her in. As the hood which covers her head is removed, all her hair stands on end. In shame she cowers in a corner of the room until she is lead away.

The strange sight leaves Danjo in shock, so that when Hidetaro and another loyal retainer named Makiginu come to the room to comfort him, he asks them to leave him alone. After they leave he nonchalantly picks up his tweezers to pull out a few stray whiskers. But when he puts them aside, they begin to move around by themselves, as he watches in amazement. Next he takes out his wooden pipe to see what will happen. It doesn't even budge. And then he tries it with his sword; and it bobs around before his very eyes. In curiosity he wonders why such strange things are occurring.

Suddenly a man comes into the room calling for Minbu and Genba. He tells them that there is a strange man at the main gate, who calls himself Manbei and is demanding to meet Lord Harumichi's son, Harukaze. Danjo hides himself so that he can eavesdrop on the proceedings, just as Manbei bursts into the room and introduces himself as the brother of Koiso, the former lady-in-waiting. According to him, Koiso died in labor; and it is the child's father, Harukaze that is to blame. In fact, this man, one of Genba's men is an imposter, who has killed Koiso in order to steal the precious card that was in her possession.

In deference to Harukaze's situation, Minbu offers the man some money in order to settle the matter quietly. But the man continues to make more and more demands, which are impossibole to meet, one after another, finally insisting that they bring his sister back from the World of the Dead. Thinking that it is time to make an appearance, Danjo comes out of hiding and tells Manbei that he will comply with his request to bring Koiso back. He writes such a letter of request to Emma, the Lord of the Underworld, hands the letter to Manbei with instructions to deliver it, draws his sword, and kills the man on the spot. Afterwards he explains that the man was an imposter. While Danjo was on duty at one of the guardhouses earlier in the day, a man had come to report the murder of his sister, Koiso, and the theft of a precious card that she had with her. This man, Koiso's real brother is still being cared for at Danjo's mansion. Danjo searches the dead man and finds the missing card. Doubtful of Genba's loyalty, he returns it to Minbu.

Having thought deeply about Nishiki-no-mae's strange disease, Danjo asks her father to bring her back into the room. As expected, when Danjo removes the hood her hair flies upward. As soon as he takes the ornamental iron comb out of her hair, however, it settles back down. Now the wedding ceremony can be carried out without any further delay. Then Danjo thrusts his spear into the ceiling, and a man with a huge magnet drops to the floor. Danjo pins him to the floor and tries to make him reveal who put him up to playing this dirty trick on the bride. But Genba quickly approaches the man, just as he is about to confess, and kills him instantly, so that his secret will not leak out.

Lord Harumichi gives Genba a sword to be presented to Danjo as a dowry gift for Bunya. When Genba hands it to him, though, he draws it and kills Genba, to the complete shock of everyone present. In explanation, Danjo says that his master, Bunya, had ordered him to discover the cause of Nishiki-no-mae's disease and to get rid of the evil that was plaguing the Ono family. His duty done, he triumphantly says good-bye to all.


The spirit of the ground spider

At the start of the play Yasumasa appears and announced that his lord has been ill, but that he is now thought to be improving thanks to services of intercession at various temples. The lord, Yorimitsu, enters. Then comes Kocho, bringing some medicine which was specially prepared for him. When she asks about his illness, he replies that he is feeling better. Nevertheless, to cheer him up and help him recover, she dances. At the end Yorimitsu thanks her and she withdraws.

Left alone except for his sword-bearer, Yorimitsu's body begins to quake. The light dims, and from the darkness comes a priest. Taken aback, Yorimitsu inquires how he came there. The mysterious priest replies that he has come because he heard that Yorimitsu wishes for services to be held for his recovery. Yorimitsu expresses his thanks, and the priest approaches to begin such a service. Just as the sword-bearer notices something strange about the priest's shadow, darkness envelopes them continuing to advance towards Yorimitsu, the priest tries to cast a web around him. Despite his illness, Yorimitsu manages to draw his sword, Hizamaru [the knee-cutting sword], and slashes the priest. Yasumasa rushes to the rescue, but too late. The priest has already disappeared.

Yasumasa organizes an expedition and follows a trail of blood to the spider-priest's lair, a wooden framework with a moss-covered thatched roof. This symbolizes an old tomb in which the spider has taken refuge. Yasumasa accompanied by four warriors, known as the Four Heavenly Kings, arrives in front of the tomb. Hearing a groan from inside, they guess that the spider-priest is hiding there. In the usual manner of medieval warriors before a battle, they cry out their names and challenge the spider to a fight. Accepting their challenge, the spider emerges and boasts that it will destroy Yorimitsu as a first strp towards world domination. Employing superhuman powers, it casts its web upon them, binding them more and more tightly. But as the wounded monster begins to tire, Yasumasa swiftly gives it a death blow with Hizamaru, which thereafter becomes known as Kumo-kiri-maru [the spider cutting sword].


Narukami the saint

Saint Narukami has made a petition to the Emperor, but it was turned down. In revenge for that, Narukami, who has supernatural power, captured the god of rain, and the entire country is on the verge of drought and hunger. The farmers are at their wits' end. Finally Taema, a princess of the Imperial Family, is selected to go to see Narukami to try to seduce him and nullify his magical power.

The story begins when Taema reaches Narukami's hermitage. Her entry is refused by the priests. They say women are not allowed to enter the sacred area. So she tries to talk her way in by telling a love story, which she hopes will be alluring to people in a closed society. She is so successful that Narukami, who has been praying nearby, becomes curious about her and permits her to enter. As she goes on with her story, Narukami becomes excited and almost faints from the effect of the girl's charm. She captivates him with her gentle feminine behaviour and story telling. Suddenly, she complains of an acute pain. Narukami says to her that she is safe because he can cure her and proceeds to console her. As he elaborately strokes her whole body her finds himself losing control. At last he confesses that he is driven of of his senses by her charm. As a result, Naurkami loses his magical powers.

Taema severs the sacred straw rope guarding the sacred area. The god of rain in the form of a dragon ascends to heaven. The rain which has been longed for begins to fall.

Last updated March 2006
Copyright (C) 2003-2006 by Jeff Blair
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