Keeping it all in the family

Mitsugoro X carries on a grand old tradition

by Rei Sasaguchi

The Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo is starting 2001 with special programs to celebrate the succession (shumei) of Yasosuke Bando, 45, to the prestigious stage name Mitsugoro Bando X, left to him by his father Mitsugoro IX on his death in April 1999.

This month the Kabukiza celerates the succession of Yasosuke Bando to the stage name Mitsugoro Bando X, which he inherited from his late father.

Endowed with talent and a genuine love for the stage, Mitsugoro was rigorously trained by his father Mitsugoro Bando IX, who learned his trade under the great Kikugoro Onoe VI, and after Kikugoro’s death in 1949, under Kikugoro’s top disciple, Shoroku Onoe. The new Mitsugoro was also fortunate enough to receive Shoroku’s coaching in certain plays, and today still regards the late Shoroku as his mentor.

With his fine elocution and commanding movements and gestures, Mitsugoro can occupy an enormous space on the stage, imparting a sense of “bigness” to his acting. When he stops moving and is about to strike a mie pose, his slight body becomes filled with an inner force. The stream of energy runs upward and explodes finally in his wide-open eyes.

January’s afternoon program opens with the auspicious dance “Shiki Sanbaso,” to the accompaniment of nagauta music, and is followed by the historical play (jidaimono) “Kumagai Jin’ya (Kumagai’s Camp).”

Next comes the dance “Kisen,” and the last number in the afternoon program is Mokuami Kawatake’s 1864 sewamono play “Gosho no Gorozo” in two acts, in which Kikugoro Onoe plays the gangster Gorozo opposite Sadanji Ichikawa as Gorozo’s enemy Hoshikage Doemon. Shikan Nakamura plays Gorozo’s wife Satsuki, who works in the pleasure quarters of Gojozaka in Kyoto to help her husband financially.

In the opening scene Gorozo encounters Doemon one evening at the entrance to Gojozaka. Doemon wants Satsuki, and asks Gorozo to let him have her, but his request is flatly rejected. The two men quarrel and are about to draw their swords when they are stopped by a restaurant manager.

In the following act, Satsuki is trying to obtain 200 gold pieces for Gorozo to help his daimyo master settle his debts. Doemon proposes to lend her the money on condition that she part with Gorozo. Satsuki then writes Gorozo a farewell letter and hands it to him with the 200 gold pieces.

The evening program consists of two jidaimono, “Sanemori Monogatari” and “Soga no Taimen (The Soga Brothers Meet Their Enemy),” which is often presented on the occasion of the shumei of a prominent actor.

“Soga no Taimen” is very simple in plot. The elegant Juro and the hot-blooded Goro dressed in in red and blue are introduced, through the good offices of Maizuru (Shikan Nakamura), to their enemy Kudo Suketsune, Shogun Yoritomo’s trusted general, who killed the young men’s father 18 years before. Goro is ready to attack Kudo on the spot, but is stopped by Juro, who maintains his composure. Goro is pacified when Kudo gives them passes to the shogun’s hunting ground at the foot of Mount Fuji, hinting that they may avenge their father’s death there.

The new Mitsugoro gives a superb performance as Goro in the bombastic aragoto style of acting. A wonderful specimen of the stylized beauty of Edo Period kabuki, “Soga Brothers” is exciting particularly because of its splendid cast. Celebrating New Year’s and the occasion of Mitsugoro’s shumei, Kikugoro plays Goro’s older brother Juro in the more restrained wagoto style and Danjuro plays Kudo Suketsune.

With his brilliant performance of Goro in “The Soga Brothers,” the new Mitsugoro is embarking on a highly promising career, and is sure to prove a great asset to kabuki in the 21st century.