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Posts Tagged ‘Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura’

The old Kabuki-za, as seen in 2008.

Shôchiku has just announced the programs for the first several months of shows at the rebuilt (renovated) Kabuki-za, scheduled to open in April 2013, including, of course, some rather special performances for the occasion. Sadly, I won’t be able to see the shows in April or May, but I am very much hoping to make it out to Tokyo in June or July. In total, there will be a full year of these kokera otoshi performances, celebrating the opening of the new theatre.

The April program opens, appropriately, with a celebratory Crane dance called Kakuju senzai (鶴寿千歳), performed to welcome the new Kabuki-za, and to mark its opening in an auspicious manner. I had the pleasure, in January 2008, of seeing this dance performed by the late Nakamura Jakuemon, then the oldest kabuki actor still-active; he passed away earlier this year at the age of 91.

The program then continues with Omatsuri (lit. “Festival”), a piece often performed in celebration of the return to the stage of an actor who has been long absent due to illness. This April, however, it will be performed in honor, in memory, of the late, great, Nakamura Kanzaburô, who passed away earlier this month.

Other pieces to be performed in April include, among other pieces:
*Kumagai Jin’ya, featuring Tamasaburô, and Kataoka Nizaemon as Yoshitsune
*Benten Kozô (Hamamatsu-ya through riverside scenes, the most common selections), featuring Kikugorô as Benten Kozô and Danjûrô as Nippon Daemon, a one-two punch I have had the pleasure of seeing before.
*Kanjinchô, with Kôshirô as Benkei, Baigyoku as Yoshitsune, and Kikugorô as Togashi

Of course, the sense of which plays are “big name,” or to put it more truthfully, which plays I have personally heard of, is exceedingly subjective. Nevertheless, for what it is worth, the May performances are almost exclusively those with which I am familiar:
*Tsurukame, an auspicious crane & turtle dance.
*The Terakoya scene from Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami
*Sannin Kichisa, starring Danjûrô, Kikugorô, and Nizaemon as the three Kichisas.
*Meiboku Sendai Hagi, also known as The Ten Roles of the House of Date (Date no jûyaku), a play featuring the sorcerer Nikki Danjô, and a giant rat. I’ve never seen this play, but have seen it referenced countless times in ukiyo-e prints. Featuring Matsumoto Kôshirô as the sorcerer, and Sakata Tôjûrô as Masaoka. This play is famous for featuring a single actor in ten roles, performing numerous quick-changes between characters, though I am unclear as to which actor will be the one to do this.
*Kuruwa Bunshô, feat. Nizaemon and Tamasaburô
*Dôjôji, a most special opportunity to see the great onnagata Tamasaburô in the leading role

Finally (for now), the June performances, which I just might get to see, include:
*Shunkan, a story based on the 1177 Shishigatani Incident, in which the monk Shunkan is exiled to a remote island.
*and, Sukeroku, one of the most popular plays, and one which I’m really glad to have seen, though it would be wonderful if they were showing a big-name show I have not yet seen in person, such as Ise Ondo.

A 1962 performance of Sukeroku, featuring Ichikawa Danjûrô XI as Sukeroku, and Nakamura Utaemon VI as Agemaki.

Meanwhile, the Kanamaru-za in Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku – the oldest still-operating kabuki theatre in the world – hosts performances only in April every year. This year, the shows include shûmei performances for Ichikawa Ennosuke IV, formerly Ichikawa Kamejirô, who took on that name roughly six months ago, as Ichikawa Ennosuke III became Ichikawa En’ô. I don’t know if this will be his first performance, his debut, in the role of the fox Tadanobu in Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, a role for which the former Ennosuke is quite famous, but in any case, debut or not, the afternoon program this coming April at the Kanamaru-za includes scenes from Yoshitsune, with Ennosuke in that role. The evening program includes a formal announcement (kôjô, 口上) of his name-taking (shûmei), along with Kyô ningyô and Ôshû Adachigahara, two pieces with which I am not familiar, though I’m sure they’re great.

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This past summer, London and Rome (and a few other cities?) saw a tour of a Grand Kabuki performance of Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, one of the most famous and popular plays in the kabuki repertoire.

Nakamura Shibajaku VII played Shizuka Gozen, the female lead.

The transformation with makeup and costume from someone who could easily pass for a salaryman into the young, beautiful Shizuka is really something.

Apparently, the embed link doesn’t want to work, so here’s a boring normal link: The Guardian: Nakamura Shibajaku VII as Shizuka Gozen

Thanks to the Guardian for producing and providing this video, and to Toshidama Gallery for pointing it out.

I do wish that the Guardian (and other Western media) wouldn’t apply certain terms, or get involved in certain discussions; there’s no need to use the word “drag” here, and I really don’t understand what they were talking about in the video in that one bit where they mentioned something about “heterosexual homosexuals.” … It’s really just another example of Orientalism or double-standards. When Western actors (e.g. Shakespearean actors) play cross-cast roles on stage, there’s nothing to it. But when it’s a traditional element of an Eastern drama form, such as kabuki, suddenly it’s bizarre and weird, exotic and unusual. A noble and beautiful tradition, really the Japanese equivalent of Shakespeare in many ways, is reduced to being compared to a drag show; and the sexuality of the actors is raised as a topic of discussion. Well, we’re getting there, slowly but surely. It’s interesting to see sometimes a reminder of just how far we have to go..

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I totally wish I could be there to see it, and totally regret missing out on kabuki when it was in Paris a few years back. Ichikawa Ebizô will head a troupe offering 12 performances of Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (“Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees”), one of the most popular/famous of all kabuki plays, and easily one of my favorites.

It’s got everything one could ask for – samurai heroes Yoshitsune and Benkei, the ghosts of the Taira clan, a princess, a magical fox spirit, some awesome fight scenes…


(A scene from the play, from a recent performance in Osaka. Videorecording is not allowed in the theatre, and I neither encourage nor condone it, but am happy to be able to share this with you.)

And the prices seem quite reasonable, too, tickets ranging from £12 – £52.

There will be earphone guides available, but for the full experience, ditch the distracting headphones, and listen to the real thing. You’ll have no trouble understanding it because you will have read the synopsis at Kabuki21.com, or the full text as translated by Stanleigh Jones.

More details at Sadler’s Wells sleek website.

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Meanwhile, as the Kabuki-za is being destroyed next month, they are turning the roof tiles, bearing the crest of the theatre, into clocks, and putting them up for sale to the fans! I would *love* to have one, to have a real actual piece of the old Kabuki-za, but at 3万円 (about US$300), I’ll pass.

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