Monkey magic takes hold of the Kabukiza


The Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo is ending the year 2000 with two selections of plays and dance numbers befitting the occasion.

This month’s lead actors are Danjuro Ichikawa, Ennosuke Ichikawa, Koshiro Matsumoto, Ennosuke’s younger brother Danshiro, Yasosuke Bando, Shikan Nakamura and Sojuro Sawamura.

Ennosuke Ichikawa and Danjuro Ichikawa in “Migawari Zazen”

The afternoon program consists of “Kaka Saiyuki” followed by a set of two dances performed by Yasosuke Bando, “Oharame (The Peddler from Ohara)” and “Kuniiri Yakko (A Servant Leading a Lord’s Procession),” and “Kochiyama” followed by the comical “Migawari Zazen (Proxy Meditation).”

“Kaka Saiyuki” is a dramatization of the classic Chinese Ming Dynasty novel “Xiyuji” (known in Japan as “Saiyuki”), about the Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang (Sanzo Hoshi)’s journey to India to study Buddhist doctrine with his three retainers Songoku (Monkey), Chohakkai (Pig) and Sagojo, a kappa, the reptilian water sprite of the Far East.

Yasunosuke Bando in “Kuniiri Yakko”

Koshiro takes lead roles in two plays, as Kochiyama Soshun in “Kochiyama,” Mokuami Kawatake’s 1881 sewamono masterpiece, in the afternoon and in the evening as Nanpo Jujibei in “Hikimado.”

Kochiyama Soshun is tea master to the shogun’s household, but has a shady sideline in extortion. The widow of a wealthy pawnbroker offers Soshun 200 gold pieces to retrieve her daughter from the house of Lord Matsue, ruler of Izumo Province. The daughter, a lady-in-waiting in the lord’s house, is under pressure to become his concubine. Kochiyama comes to the mansion wearing a splendid red ecclesiastical robe, posing as a messenger sent by the powerful abbot of the Kan’eiji Temple in Ueno.

Kochiyama uses polite intimidation to make the unwilling Lord Matsue (Yasokuke Bando) give up the girl, and when Matsue finally gives in, he audaciously demands a personal honorarium in gold as well.

When Kochiyama is about to leave the daimyo’s house with his loot, however, his true identity is discovered by one of Lord Matsue’s officers, and at that moment a fantastic change takes place in Soshun’s attitude and speech. After some interplay Lord Matsue lets him go, but as Kochiyama retreats slowly over the hanamichi he turns and glares at the daimyo, and exclaims, “Fools!”

The program for the evening comprises the classic “Hikimado,” part of the 1749 bunraku play “Futatsu Chocho Kuruwa Nikki” as adapted for the kabuki stage, and “Rancho,” a rare play from the repertoire of the family of Sojuro Sawamura, performed to the accompaniment of Shinnai music, which is seldom used on the kabuki stage.

In “Hikimado (Sliding Window),” pulling the rope attached to the skylight plays an important role in the plot. The sumo wrestler Chogoro (Danshiro), a fugitive from justice after killing several men in a brawl, comes to the house of his mother Oko (Tetsunosuke Sawamura) to bid farewell. While Chogoro is resting upstairs, his brother-in-law Jujibei (Koshiro) returns home in high spirits and reports to Oko and his wife Ohaya (Matsue Nakamura) that he has just been appointed a local magistrate and is now allowed to dress like a samurai.

When Jujibei receives a wanted poster for Chogoro he at first is eager to capture the criminal, but when he realizes that the man in question is his own brother-in-law, Jujibei agrees to sell Oko the poster. Moved by Jujibei’s kindness, Chogoro wants to surrender himself, but his mother urges him to escape.

Chogoro persuades his mother to fulfill her obligation to her son-in-law, whose duty is to capture her real son, and Oko finally complies by tying Chogoro with the end of the rope attached to the skylight. Now feeling obligated to his mother-in-law, Jujibei cuts the rope with his sword and lets Chogoro flee into the moonlight.

The most exciting aspect of the Kabukiza’s December programs is the pairing of Danjuro and Ennosuke in two well-known dance dramas, first in “Proxy Meditation,” the last number in the afternoon program, and in the classic “Kanjincho” in the evening program.

In “Proxy Meditation,” created in 1910 by Shiko Okamura for Kikugoro Onoe VI and based on the kyogen farce “Hanago,” Ennosuke plays the henpecked husband Ukyo and Danjuro plays Ukyo’s possessive wife Tamanoi. Ennosuke learned the role of Ukyo during the ’70s from the late Kanzaburo Nakamura (the son-in-law of Kikugoro VI), who had a great reputation for this role.

Ukyo manages to escape his wife for the evening on the pretext of practicing zazen alone, but sneaks out of the house to visit his lover Hanago, leaving his servant Taro Kaja (Karoku Nakamura) to meditate in his absence.

Ukyo’s scheme is soon discovered by his wife, who replaces Taro Kaja and waits for her husband to come home. Eventually, Ukyo returns, staggering over the hanamichi from drinking with Hanago and savoring the sweet moments he has shared with her. He recounts his amorous experiences to the person hiding under the robe, without realizing that it is his fuming wife!

“Hikimado” and “Rancho” are separated by the renowned play “Kanjincho,” performed by Danjuro and Ennosuke.