Posts Tagged ‘onna mono kurui’

Got to go see some Kumi udui this weekend, and.. it was wonderful as always.

Kumi udui / Kumi wudui 組踊 (or, Kumi odori in Japanese) is an Okinawan form of dance-drama originated in the Luchuan (Ryukyuan) royal court in 1719. It bears many similarities to Japanese Noh or Kabuki, and I suppose perhaps to Chinese theatre forms such as kunqu or jingju as well. You can read a bit more about it at the Samurai-Archives Wiki or on the National Theatre Okinawa’s website.

While Kumi udui is now regularly performed at the National Theatre Okinawa (est. in Urasoe in 2004), among other venues in Okinawa, this weekend’s performance at the Yokohama Noh Theatre was a wonderfully rare opportunity to see it performed here in the Tokyo/Yokohama area.

I am embarrassed to admit, I struggled to focus during the performance of Nidu tichiuchi 二童敵討, a play about two brothers who scheme to get the lord Amaohe and his men drunk, and distract them with dance, in order to get the upper hand on him and kill him in revenge for Amaohe having killed their father. One of the five plays written by Udui bujо̄ (Magistrate of Dance) Tamagusuku Chо̄kun 踊奉行玉城朝薫 and performed in that first ever kumi udui performance in 1719, this remains one of the most frequently performed plays in the small classical repertoire.

I’ve enjoyed the privilege of seeing it performed two or three times before, and unfortunately, embarrassingly, found it difficult to get engrossed, especially during the first half, which is slower, lower energy, consisting chiefly of dialogue. But the costumes were gorgeous as always, and the second half, in which the brothers dance lively dances and execute their plan, that was lively and always fun. 

But the second play of today’s program was a new one for me, and I had far less difficulty paying attention – my mind not wandering – and just getting absorbed into the story and the aesthetics. 

Based on what very little I thought I knew of the play Wunna munu gurui 女物狂 (J: Onna mono kurui), I assumed it would be essentially a variation on the Noh play Sumidagawa, in which a mother in search of her son, kidnapped by slavers, is mad with grief, and eventually learns her son has died. 

But as it turns out, the play has only some few basic similarities. I don’t believe there’s video of the performance I saw, but here is a recording of one from the National Theatre Okinawa:


The kumi udui play begins, not with the mother, but with the slaver, who introduces himself to the audience, and then comes across the boy, Kamimachi 亀松. The kid playing this role, Tomishima Kanon* 富島花音, was incredible. Not that I would know precisely what all the marks and movements should be, but as far as I could tell, they certainly seemed very restrained, professional, their movements very controlled and rehearsed, not loose or imperfect at all. I’ve seen a lot of kids in Noh and Kabuki (albeit often perhaps a good few years younger) who were clearly doing their best, but were fidgety, too loud or too high-pitched, more shouting their lines than chanting them properly. And they had much smaller roles than Kamimachi, who has quite a few lines and who is on-stage for a sizable portion of the play. This kid was so impressive. And adorable in their yellow bingata robe, oshiroi makeup, and wig and hair ornaments. Beautiful. 

The boy dances with a pinwheel, and is then captured by the slaver, who takes him to a temple. While the slaver is asleep, the boy tells the monks about the kidnapping, and the monks concoct a fake “wanted” order, describing the man as wanted by the authorities. It was wonderful to see how a 300 year
old play, performed in highly stylized traditional forms and in a language few if any in the audience understand (the Okinawan language is a distinct language from, not a dialect of, Japanese), could still inspire laughs – as the man tries to make himself look shorter, or to wipe or scrunch his face in different
ways to try to avoid matching the description. 

After the slaver is taken away (or flees? it is unclear), a bunch of other kids appear, in adorable red robes, also with lavish hairdos and ornaments. I didn’t quite understand, in terms of the plot, who they were supposed to be. But their performances were excellent too. 

The mother then appears, in gorgeous bingata robes, dragging a willow branch. I know willow features in Sumidagawa too, as a symbol somehow of the grief and madness, though I don’t really know the history or symbolism of why. She dances briefly, recites some lines, and collapses on the ground. 

Then, finally, the monks reunite her with her son. A happy ending, compared to Sumidagawa

Wish I knew what exactly to say further, except that visually, aurally, it was a real pleasure. Tomishima-san was incredible, and of course the adult actors were as well. I would love to see this again. Though I am also now all the more curious and excited to eventually see Mikarushii 銘苅子, a kumi udui play with similarities to the Noh play Hagoromo (“The Feather Mantle”); the costume for the heavenly spirit in this play looks absolutely incredible. While the costume for the shite character in Hagoromo – a celestial maiden – looks like a fancy Noh costume, that for Mikarushii is rainbow-colored, like some of the most brilliant Japanese paintings of phoenixes, ethereal in multiple gossamer layers, and includes a long train which flows behind the figure like a trailing train or clouds. Well. In any case, hopefully someday I’ll get to see this. In the meantime, Wunna munu gurui was a pleasure, and I look forward to seeing this performed again someday as well.

*I am unfortunately unsure of the reading of the actor’s name.


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