Ennosuke lights up the stage with super summer program

by Rei Sasaguchi

July is the month for Ennosuke Ichikawa at the Kabukiza. For the champion of Super Kabuki, this year’s event is particularly significant because it marks the 30th performance since the initial presentation of his summer program at the Kabukiza.

For the afternoon program, Ennosuke has chosen three numbers that were performed on the memorable occasion in July 1971: “Kamahige” rom the Ichikawa special repertory of 18 kabuki plays, the dance “Kurozuka” and the last act from “Yoshi- tsune Senbonzakura,” crowned with Ennosuke’s famous exit flying over the hanamichi runway. For the evening program, Ennosuke is staging “Uwajima Sodo (The Uwajima Incident),” an 1873 kabuki play he revived in 1977. Ennosuke is presenting “Uwajima” at the Kabukiza for the first time, leading his personally trained troupe of young, able actors.

“Kamahige,” first performed in 1719, is a fine example of the bombastic aragoto style of kabuki acting. It was revived and staged at the Kabukiza in 1910 by Ennosuke Ichikawa I when he changed his stage name to Danshiro II, while his son became Ennosuke II (later En’o, the grandfather of the present Ennosuke).

“Kamahige” centers on the encounter of Taira no Yoshikado (son of the rebellious 10th-century general Taira no Masakado), disguised as a pilgrim, and Tawara no Kotota (the son of Tawara no Tota, who beheaded Masakado after slaying him in battle). Discovering that the pilgrim is Yoshikado in disguise, Kotota attempts to kill him while shaving his beard with an enormous sickle he has sharpened, but is unable to because Yoshikado is guarded by supernatural power.

In “Kurozuka,” Ennosuke gives an outstanding performance as an old witch living alone in the wilderness of Adachigahara. Based on the noh play “Adachigahara,” “Kurozuka” was created in 1939 for En’o, and it remained his favorite dance number through his career. Ennosuke first danced the role in 1963 when he, at 23, replaced his grandfather, who had fallen ill, on the occasion of Ennosuke’s succession to the name. For the past 37 years, Ennosuke has performed “Kurozuka” over 700 times, including overseas tours.

“The Residence of Abbot Kawatsura” is the final act of the well-known “Yoshitsune Senbonzakura,” adapted from the 1747 bunraku play. Ennosuke plays Sato Tadanobu (both the real Tadanobu and the were-fox Tadanobu), a role he first tackled in 1967. “Yoshitsune Senbonzakura” concerns the downfall of the 12th-century hero Minamoto no Yoshitsune after his brilliant military exploits in 1185. In the final act, Yoshitsune (Sojuro Sawamura) is hiding in the house of abbot Kawatsura, in the mountains of Yoshino.

Into Yoshitsune’s presence is first brought the real Tadanobu, to whom, Yoshitsune believes, he has entrusted his mistress Shizuka (Shikan Nakamura). Then Shizuka arrives, and, to Yoshitsune’s bewilderment, another Tadanobu is announced. On hearing the sound of the hand drum, Hatsune, beaten by Shizuka, the second Tadanobu discloses his true identity as a fox and recounts his background and his sad attachment to the drum, the heads of which are covered with his parents’ skin.

Moved by Tadanobu’s love for his parents, Yoshitsune gives him the drum, and Tadanobu, transformed now into a white fox with long fur, romps about the stage ecstatically.

The grateful fox then lures a gang of wicked monks planning to attack Yoshitsune into the courtyard and punishes them. The scene culminates in Ennosuke’s grand flying exit, his trademark ever since he first tried it at the National Theater in April 1968.

“Uwajima Sodo (The Uwajima Incident)” is one of the kabuki plays Ennosuke has successfully revived. He has worked over the script and made his production even more exciting by the use of quick changes onstage and spectacular effects. Ennosuke plays only four roles this time, leaving more roles for members of his troupe.

Typical of kabuki plays about disturbances in daimyo families, “Uwajima” centers on two factions fighting for supremacy in the house of the Date lords of Uwajima in Iyo Province (Ehime Prefecture) on Shikoku. Lord Date Totomi-no-kami (Ennosuke) has been commissioned by the shogunate to raise 50,000 gold pieces for the construction of levees along a river. Meanwhile, the daimyo’s favorite mistress O-Tatsu (Emisaburo) has been scheming with the evil minister Ohashi Uzen (Karoku Nakamura) to eliminate the daimyo’s young heir Harumatsu and have her son Hanawaka succeed to the lordship of Uwajima.

The play begins with a scene in which O-Tatsu arranges for a Date family heirloom, an arrowhead named Usui, to be stolen during Lord Date’s absence. Ochi Isonojo (Monnosuke), who was responsible for the lost heirloom, and his lover Kariya (Kamejiro) flee the castle on a hunt for the stolen arrowhead. The ghost of O-Tatsu’s ancestor Chosokabe Mitsuchika (Danjiro) emerges from the shrine of Sasayama Gongen and urges Uzen to help O-Tatsu in her attempt to seize control of Iyo Province.

Lord Date’s loyal retainers, Yanbe Seibei (Ennosuke), Kariya’s elder brother, and Ochi Buemon (Danshiro), Isonojo’s elder brother, are ordered by Wake Sanzaemon (En’ya) and other senior retainers of Uzen’s faction to transport the 50 chests of gold coins to Edo by ship. Bad weather forces them to postpone their sailing, and, while waiting, Seibei falls ill from worrying about the precious cargo. Trapped in a mosquito net at an inn, Seibei is murdered by Uzen’s men. They then steal the money and pin the blame on Buemon.

Two years pass. Lord Date’s son Harumatsu is hiding in the mountains of Iyo, guarded by Buemon’s wife Takino (Ennosuke), his governess. Traveling to search for his missing mother, Buemon’s son Bunosuke (Karoku’s 7-year-old son Yonekichi) comes to Takino’s humble abode, accompanied by his servant Manpei (Karoku). Takino is trying to persuade Bunosuke to leave, for young Lord Harumatsu’s safety, when Harumatsu (Karoku’s 5-year-old son Ryunosuke) comes out and asks Takino to let Bunosuke stay with them. Hearing from Manpei that Buemon is being imprisoned by Uzen, Takino decides to go to her husband’s rescue.

The following act finds Seibei’s servant Dosuke (Ennosuke) and Seibei’s pretty widow Hatsune (Emiya) running a teahouse located on the border of Mino and Omi provinces (Gifu and Shiga prefectures). In order to protect his master’s family, Dosuke, who makes his living as a palanquin bearer, treats Hatsune as his wife, Seinosuke as his son and Seibei’s mother as his own mother.

Hatsune’s neighbor Gengoro (Ukon), a gangster, suspects that Isonojo and Kariya are hiding in the teahouse and plots to inform the authorities. Hatsune has borrowed 15 gold pieces from Gengoro, and in order to settle the debt she asks O-En (Shun’en), the proprietress of a brothel, to hire her and receives 15 gold pieces as advance payment.

On her way with O-En in a palanquin, Hatsune is abducted by Gengoro and his gang. Enraged at Hatsune for rejecting him, Gengoro kills her after telling her how her husband was murdered.

Dosuke arrives on the scene, carrying Seinosuke on his back, just as Hatsune dies. Gengoro grabs Seinosuke from Dosuke and starts to flee. Standing in the pool of the waterfall, Dosuke stabs himself in the belly, and prays to the gods to help him. Miraculously, Gengoro is drawn back to where Dosuke stands, and the dying Dosuke stabs him.

Isonojo retrieves the stolen arrowhead from Gengoro, while Kariya hugs her nephew Seinosuke. The two young people decide on the spot to return to Uwajima to avenge Seibei’s death.