In the Edo period, all theaters in Edo (Tokyo) would stage special shows in November to show the actors they had under contract for the coming year. The contracts are long gone, but Kabuki-za continues this tradition by staging a gala program of lively and colorful plays featuring stars old and new.
Program A (from 11:00 am)
The priest Shunkan has been exiled to "Devil's Island" for plotting against the dictator Kiyomori. A pardon is given to his fellow conspirators, but Shunkan is only saved by an additional pardon given by Kiyomori's compassionate son. Even so, he gives up his place on the boat to freedom so his companion's new wife can accompany her husband back to the capital. The boat leaves and Shunkan is left watching it disappear in the distance, knowing he will be left on the island forever. Kichiemon plays Shunkan in a celebration of the successful tour of the play in the United States in September.
Tsuchigumo (The Earth Spider)
A dance play adapted from the classical Noh theater. The samurai lord Minamoto Raiko is famous in legend for ridding Kyoto of demons. While Raiko is confined to bed in illness, a priest (Takao) from a prominent temple comes to pray for his health. In fact, the priest is actually the spirit of the earth spider which has caused Raiko's illness in the first place and hopes to destroy him. The spider's plan to kill Raiko is defeated by his retainers in an exciting fight.
Tojuro no Koi (Tojuro's Love)
Sakata Tojuro was one of the great actors of the Kyoto kabuki stage in the late 17th century. He created the wagoto soft style for handsome young lovers, and along with the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon, he was one of the founders of Kansai kabuki. This modern play by writer and publisher Kikuchi Kan shows Tojuro (Baigyoku) at the peak of his career when he has a new challenge, to play a man who seduces a married woman. In order to find inspiration for the role, he finds it real life by seducing Okaji (Jakuemon), the owner of a restaurant. Yet when he sees that his method of creating a role has succeeded, he leaves, giving no thought to the damage his "acting" has caused her emotions.
Yayoi no Hana Asakusa Matsuri
This group of four dances celebrates the popular Sanja Matsuri festival, which has been held annually in the Asakusa district of Tokyo for centuries. The centerpiece shows a pair of fishermen said to have caught the golden Buddhist image worshiped at the temple in Asakusa in their net. Tomijuro and Kankuro dance together in the four pieces, changing from role to role, from legendary heroes of the ancient past, patrons of the brothel district and mythological shishi lions.
Program B (from 4:30 pm)
Hototogisu Kojo Rakugetsu (The Fall of Osaka Castle)
In the early 17th century the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu cemented his rule on Japan by attacking Osaka Castle, the headquarters of Toyotomi Hideyori, the son of the former head of the country. More important than Hideyori, though, is Yodo no kata, his powerful mother. The Tokugawa forces lay seige to Osaka Castle, and as the military situation worsens, so does the mental state of Yodo no kata. Living National Treasure Utaemon stars as Yodo no kata, one of his greatest roles, in this play written by Tsubouchi Shoyo, one of Japan's first translators of Shakespere.
Sagi Musume (The Earth Spider)
In a landscape covered with snow, the spirit of a crane appears as a beautiful woman dressed in a pure white kimono. She dances of the many stages and emotions of love, including the joy of a young woman in love and the worry caused by love that can be as bad as the tortures of hell. Starring Jakuemon.
Fuin Giri (Breaking the Seal)
In the pleasure quarters of the Edo period, ones most important possesions were money and pride. In danger of losing his lover, the courtesan Umegawa (Takataro), the money courier Chubei (Kankuro) breaks the seals on a package of money entrusted to him after being taunted by a rich rival Hachiemon (Takao), even though the misuse of such entrusted funds is punishable by death.
Noriai Bune Eho Manzai
A mixture of people from Edo including a carpenter, a geisha, and a vendor of sweet white sake dance to pass time while waiting for their ferry boat to set sail across the river. They are also entertained by a group of travelling performers from the country whose humorous performances were thought to bring good luck for the coming new year. The all-star ensemble cast including Sojuro and Sadanji creates a spirited mood that helps usher in the holiday season to come.
I haven't made my choice yet, but I wanted the readers of the Kabuki for Everyone page to know that we will soon add a page celebrating our 3 successful shows in Hong Kong in October. Also, look for new plays and pictures in the play section, as well as video of Manjiro dancing Fuji Musume. These new features should all be found on the page by the end of November.