Kabuki: Terutora Haizen, Tanuki

Kabuki: Terutora Haizen, Tanuki, 8/26/14 (Tues), Tokyo Kabukiza

I especially wanted to see the rare first show, originally a Bunraku puppet piece by the great Chikamatsu Monzaemon of 1721 that was adapted for Kabuki in 1742. The scene performed here, “Terutora Haizen”, features a mother with a son in Takeda Shingen’s camp and a daughter married to a retainer of the enemy Terutora. She is invited to the enemy’s side to see her daughter, and decides to go quietly with her daughter-in-law on a private visit. To her surprise, she is received lavishly, and immediately smells a trap – she realizes that the only reason she has been brought here is to lure her son away from Takeda. The daimyo Terutora himself brings her a tray of food in an over-the-top show of humility, but unwilling to play their game, she knocks the tray over. Terutora explodes and angrily threatens her, and has to be restrained by her daughter’s husband. When the mother refuses to apologize, he prepares to strike, at which point the daughter-in-law blocks him with her koto. In a nice piece of stagecraft, she has a terrible stutter when she speaks but sings normally, so she plays the koto in a plea of forgiveness and offers her own life instead. Terutora reluctantly lets them go, and the daughter hurriedly sends them off safely. The mother and daughter-in-law get a memorable final moment on the hanamichi after the curtain falls before making their own exit.

The show had numerous highlights and wasn’t uninteresting, but read better than it played. It did have plenty of laughs, as when the warlord kept pulling his sleeves off in anger to reveal ever more layers of kimono underneath. But overall it is really a psychological drama more than an action piece, with the mother and retainer suppressing their anger rather than releasing it. I imagine it works better with the surrounding scenes, which were not presented here.

The problem could be a reflection of the acting: the mother seemed like it would be a juicy role, but Manjiro wasn’t overly exciting. When the warlord looked as if he was going to slice her, she barely reacted, which may be cool and all that but not very realistic. Generally speaking I thought the portrayal lacked power. Her best moment was on the hanamichi at the end in a dignified and triumphant exit. Hachinosuke did his usual good work as the warlord (loved the big moustache), but Senjaku, though fine as the stuttering daughter-in-law, didn’t really achieve the tension needed in the koto-playing scene. I wondered if the problem wasn’t the direction, i.e., a failure to set up the scene properly, as this should have been a bigger moment than it was. I wish they had let her actually play the koto as in Akoya, which would have upped the tension considerably (she plucked a few strings, but the music was basically played by a backstage musician). Kotaro as the daughter made no impression at all in an underwritten role. I suspect the show would have been a different experience with a different cast, especially in the mother’s role, and wouldn’t mind seeing it again sometime. Would also love to catch the Bunraku, where I’m sure the narrator would have a field day.

Tanuki is a popular 1953 drama by Osaragi Jiro. Kinbei awakens from a drunken stupor late at night to find himself in a coffin at a crematorium, dressed in a death shroud. He was assumed to have died in a cholera epidemic and given a full funeral, but sprang back to life after everyone left and before he could be burned. The only one who knows he is now alive is the crematorium manager. Kinbei was a playboy with a mistress in Yoshiwara and an unhappy relationship with his wife (who did not appear especially sad to see him go). He decides to stay dead and start anew, and bribes the crematorium manager to keep quiet. When he goes to his mistress, he is shocked to find that she has already taken up with a new young lover and doesn’t miss him at all. He sneaks in and takes back the money he had left with her, and leaves for parts unknown to start a new life.

Two years later, he returns as a successful businessman. His mistress’ brother, who works for the brothel as a taikomochi (kind of male geisha), and an older female geisha are astonished to see an exact look-alike of their old client. The brother takes Kinbei to a temple grounds, where they run into the mistress, now haggard, penniless and unhappy with her philandering lover. She refuses to believe that Kinbei is her dead lover come to life and immediately exits. Kinbei is delighted to see her comedown. Then unexpectedly Kinbei’s small son enters. He immediately recognizes his father, and despite his nursemaid’s objections, continues to call out, “Daddy!” Kinbei is embarrassed and unable to respond. The nursemaid apologizes and drags him away, but Kinbei is moved. He realizes that while adults can convince themselves of anything despite the evidence before their eyes, children are pure of heart and cannot be deceived. He resolves then to return home to his previous life.

This was a fun show from start to finish. The moodily lit opening funeral and progressive nighttime atmosphere were especially memorable, but the sets and lighting were superb throughout. Osaragi created a memorable set of characters, and the cast played it to the hilt. Mitsugoro didn’t miss a trick as Kinbei, but was still upstaged by the antics of the ever-inventive Kankuro as the male geisha, whose energy and sense of fun are infectious. Shichinosuke did his usual good job as the mistress, and Shido was appropriately boorish as her young lover. I’m glad to have seen this with this cast.

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