“Hiragana Seisuiki” (“Records of the Battles between the Minamoto and Taira Clans in the 12th Century”), a five-act historical bunraku play by Bunkodo and collaborators, which was first staged at the Takemoto-za in Osaka in 1739, is being presented at the small auditorium of the National Theater in Tokyo till May 24.
After introducing the 12th-century martial hero Minamoto Yoshitsune, famous for the brilliant military exploits he conducted for his older brother, Shogun Minamoto Yoritomo, “Hiragana Seisuiki” develops around episodes involving Yoshinaka’s loyal retainer Higuchi Jiro and Kajiwara Genda, the son of Kajiwara Heizo, a retainer of Yoshitsune. At the National Theater this month — to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Bunraku Theater in Osaka — Acts II and IV, featuring Genda, are presented for the first time since 1988.
The current staging of “Hiragana Seisuiki” is recommended as the finest bunraku presentation of this work, since the puppets for the principal characters are handled by an experienced team of puppeteers in their 50s and 60s.
Kiritake Kanjuro, 56, is excellent in handling Chidori and Umegae, two characters of particularly distinct appearance, in styles he learned under his master, Yoshida Minosuke.
Kanjuro’s performance is impressive, especially when he handles, with two assistants, the puppet for Umegae, a high-ranked courtesan, wearing an elaborate tate-hyogo headdress and a gorgeous black robe on which are embroidered lions and peonies around a splashing waterfall.
In Act IV, one scene is made exciting with a 50-minute rendition of lines and narrations by Toyotake Shimatayu, 77, with dazzling shamisen accompaniment by Toyozawa Tomisuke.
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