Written in 1748, Kanadehon Chushingura is the most popular play in
kabuki and the Bunraku puppet theater, and is performed regularly in both. Set
against the background of the death of the lord Enya Hangan and the vendetta taken
to avenge his death, Chushingura tells the story of the human drama behind the
true events that caused a sensation in their day, and are still celebrated as the
epitome of loyalty.
Ichiriki Teahouse, the seventh act of Chushingura, has three main characters,
all of whom have come to the teahouse for different reasons connected to the
vendetta. Yuranosuke, the leader of the vendetta group, spends his days and nights
in the pleasure quarters and pretends to have no interest at all in avenging is lord's
death in order to throw off spies. Okaru, former lady-in-waiting for the household
and wife of a samurai of the clan, is a courtesan in the quarters. She has allowed
herself to be sold into service to provide the money necessary for her husband to
join in the vendetta. Heiemon, brother of Okaru and a low-ranking footman of the
clan, longs to be a part of the vendetta, even if it is only to carry the bundles of
others and has come to the teahouse to petition Yuranosuke. The tragedies of these
three characters contrast to the elegant atmosphere of the Gion pleasure quarters.
Yuranosuke, thinking he is alone, reads a letter from the widow of his late
lord concerning plans for the attack on Lord Kira. From the second floor, Okaru
catches sight of Yuranosuke and thinks he is reading a lover letter. She eavesdrops
on the letter, using her mirror to read the characters from the back side of the thin
paper. One of Okaru's hair ornaments falls, alerting Yuranosuke to her presence.
Yuranosuke pretends to be in love with Okaru, and offers to redeem her contract
from the teahouse. She refuses at first, out of love for her husband, but Yuranosuke
promises that if Okaru will give him just three days, she may return to her husband
afterwards. Okaru agrees and Yuranosuke goes in back to make the arrangements
while she writes a letter to inform her husband.
Heiemon is reunited with his sister for the first time in a long time, and at
first does not recognize her. She gives the happy news that she is to be redeemed by
Yuranosuke. Finding out that Okaru saw the secret letter, Heiemon understands
that Yuranosuke must want to redeem Okaru so he may kill her in order to keep the
vendetta secret. He decides to take matters into his own hands, thinking it would be
better if he killed his sister himself before Yuranosuke gets a chance. Not only could
he save Okaru from a dishonorable death, but he could use this sacrifice as a sign of
his loyalty and become a part of the vendetta group.
Heiemon secretly raises his sword to strike, but Okaru catches sight of him and flees to the garden. Heiemon
reluctanly tells his sister that her husband recently died. Okaru's only purpose in
selling herself to the pleasure quarters was to help her husband and the thought of
seeing him again was the only thing that had allowed her to persevere. Without
her husband, she decides that she has nothing more to live for and will allow her
brother to take her head.
Just as Heiemon is about to strike, Yuranosuke calls out for him to stop. He
praises the siblings' loyalty. Having proved his worth, Heiemon is allowed to join
the vendetta. Placing Okaru's hand on his sword, Yuranosuke thrusts it through
the porch, wounding a spy hiding underneath. Through this, Okaru's husband,
who was a member of the vendetta group but died before he could take part, is
considered to have been able to strike down a member of the enemy through his
wife's hands. Yuranosuke orders Heiemon to dispose of the "drunk" in the nearby
river. Later, these two will meet with the other members of the vendetta group in
Edo and carry out their revenge against their lord's enemy.