Kabuki: Hade Kurabe Ise Monogatari (競伊勢物語)

  • Kabuki: 競伊勢物語 (Hade Kurabe Ise Monogatari)

9/15/15 (Tues), Kabukiza

Hade Kurabe Ise Monogatari (A Colorful Rivalry: Tales of Ise) is another convoluted but entertaining piece by Nagawa Kamesuke, the same guy who wrote the classic Meiboku Sendai Hagi (which is playing in the afternoon). The program noted that this is the 1,200th anniversary of the birth of one of the show’s main characters, Ki no Aritsune.

A young woman Shinobu and her husband are living with her mother. The first scene involves a fight between the girl and her porter over a treasured mirror lying at the bottom of a sacred pond, in which she triumphs. After Shinobu returns home, Ki no Aritsune, an imperial courtier, shows up. He turns out to be Shinobu’s true father, having given her up for adoption due to difficult circumstances. He since managed to return to power, but had to raise the emperor’s daughter as his own instead due to other difficult circumstances (it’s complicated).

He reveals that a powerful official wants the princess for his wife, but she is in love with someone else. Since Shinobu closely resembles her, Aritsune wants to claim her and marry her off instead of the princess, figuring the official will never know the difference. The mother, initially happy to see her old friend, is shocked and refuses to allow this.

Then an official arrives to say that Shinobu is under arrest for trespassing in the sacred pond. At this, the mother agrees to return Shinobu, figuring she’d be protected as the daughter of Aritsune. Happy that the girl will at least have a prosperous life, she exits to prepare her daughter’s belongings.

Aritsune then reveals his real motive: he asks Shinobu to take the princess’ identity and commit suicide in order to save the woman’s life. Shinobu is dazed by the request, but as things go in these dramas, cannot refuse. Her husband enters and, having overheard everything, volunteers to die also as a substitute for the princess’ lover in order to journey with his wife to the next world.

The unsuspecting mother returns, joyful to think that her daughter is saved. Aritsune puts up a screen and says the mother can’t see her daughter now that she is a court official. The befuddled mother prepares tea on one side of the screen and asks the daughter to play a farewell tune on the koto. We watch as the mother deals with the tea unaware of the preparations being made behind the screen for the double death. As the daughter plays a melody, the husband stabs himself in the stomach, at which Aritsune cuts off Shinobu’s head. The mother is stunned. The princess and her lover emerge from out of nowhere and lament the couple’s sacrifice. The porter, who has secretly observed all, rushes off via the hanamichi to tell the authorities of the substitution scheme, but Aritsune throws a shiriken and kills him (I think – we could hear a scream from offstage). They all pray for the dead couple’s souls.

As with many of these shows, the logic is questionable, but it certainly works in dramatic terms, particularly the beautiful and tense final scene where the daughter is playing what amounts to her death song for her mother on the opposite side of a screen. Kikunosuke was superb as Shinobu, and Kichiemon did his usual solid work as Aritsune. But the role that really stood out for me was Tozo in yet another superb old mother performance. It required a wide range of emotions, from joy to horror to anguish and more, all of which he nailed. I loved especially his bewilderment at the strange sounds behind the screen toward the end as he is preparing for what he thinks is a celebratory occasion. He was pretty near perfect throughout. A fun show with an excellent cast.

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