Kabuki: The Cuckoo…, Murder of a Foreign Envoy (沓手鳥孤城落月, 漢人韓文手管始)

  • Kabuki: 沓手鳥孤城落月, 漢人韓文手管始  (The Cuckoo, the Solitary Castle and the Sinking Moon; Murder of a Foreign Envoy)

10/17/17 (Tues), Tokyo Kabukiza

The Cuckoo, the Solitary Castle and the Sinking Moon is a piece in the modern Shin Kabuki (New Kabuki) genre by the 20th-century playwright Tsubouchi Shoyo surrounding the historic destruction of Osaka Castle in 1615. Hideyori was supposed to have inherited the mantle of leader after his father’s death but was outwitted by the wily Ieyasu, who is now moving in for the coup de grâce. With the enemy outside the gates, Hideyori’s family and forces debate whether to go down with dignity or run for their lives. The one ace they have is Ieyasu’s granddaughter Princess Sen, who is in a political marriage with Hideyori. They hope that her presence will help waylay an outright massacre by her grandfather. Ieyasu has sent a spy to kidnap her back, but she is being watched vigilantly by Hideyori’s suspicious mother Yodo. The drama concentrates on the emotional toll that the pressure takes on the characters in the besieged castle, most notably a descent by the frantic mother into madness.

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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.

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Sugimoto Bunraku: The Oil Hell Murder (杉本文楽:女殺油地獄)

  • 杉本文楽:女殺油地獄 (Sugimoto Bunraku: The Oil Hell Murder)

8/13/17 (Sun), Tokyo

This was a second crack at modernized Bunraku by the renowned photographer and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. The first, which I saw almost exactly six years ago, was a fuller-than-usual version of the ever-popular Love Suicide at Sonezaki. That show incorporated scenes that hadn’t been performed in centuries, juggled the usual placement of singers and musicians on stage, and experimented with lighting and (naturally) photographic and video projections, among other innovations. Unfortunately, it fell victim to a hall far too large for a puppet drama, chosen presumably to pay for all that elaborate staging; Sugimoto’s many fans got their money’s worth, but Bunraku fans were left short changed. Still, the staid world of Bunraku can stand some shaking up, and the production had some worthwhile ideas. So I was looking forward to what he would do this time, especially in this smaller, more puppet-friendly theater. He chose another of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s big hits, which centers on the brutal murder of a young woman by a heavily indebted youth.

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Kabuki: Daemon and the Flower Palace (駄右衛門花御所異聞)

  • Kabuki: 駄右衛門花御所異聞 (Daemon and the Flower Palace)

7/18/17 (Tues), Tokyo

This is a rarely seen drama about the real-life gangster Nippon Daemon first produced in 1761 (under the name Akiba Gongen Kaisen Banashi) and apparently drastically rewritten for Ebizo. More accurately, it has been reworked as a vanity piece for the star. A villain has stolen a precious manuscript and magical religious heirloom from a noble family in hopes of toppling it and taking over the country. The rest hardly matters.  Continue reading