Home > Reviews, Theatre > Review: Tokyo Year End Kabuki – December 2018

Review: Tokyo Year End Kabuki – December 2018

Two reviews in one.

national theatre december 2018 mini poster resizeThere were two main Tōkyō theatres holding end of year performances in December 2018. The National Theatre of Japan in Hanzōmon and the Kabukiza in Higashi Ginza, and a lucky attendance on the final auspicious day or senshūraku (lit. music of a thousand autumns, an old entertainment industry term for the final day of a performance run) at the Kabukiza andas a result was a full house.

The December 2018 Kabuki at the National Theatre of Japan was the Tōshi Kyōgen (full length play) Zoho Futatsu Domoe (The New and Improved Story of the Thief Ishikawa Goemon) by Segawa Jōkō III in 4 acts and 9 scenes.

The main character the famous thief Ishikawa Goemon, the illegitimate son of the once powerful Kyushu warlord Ōuchi Yoshihiro, who is seeking to become Shōgun, was played by Nakamura Kichiemon who performed the famous scene where he breaks out of a travelling case or tsuzura mid-air during a chū-nori flying through the air keren or stage trick.

The character Konoshita Tōkichirō Hisayoshi was played by the stunningly handsome Onoe Kikunosuke and was based on the real life historical character Hideyoshi (though, historically, with the name changed slightly to avoid Edo era Government censorship).

The play is very rarely performed in its entirety with some acts not having been played for many many years. It had everything that Kabuki has to offer from the bombastic aragoto style of acting through to what seemed to be sewamono domestic scenes usually associated with Kansai Kabuki.

The play in its entirety is a compilation of somewhat rewritten plays derived from other authors with the most familiar being Namiki Gohei’s ‘Sanmon Gosan no Kiri’ (The Golden Gate and the Paulownia Crest) and it was ‘enlightening’ to see how this particular section fitted into the drama overall, though in this version Goemon was sitting in the upstairs balcony of a house rather than the upper balcony of Nanzenji Temple in Kyōto.

It was also very nice to experience the old style earphone guide in use at the National Theatre rather than the G marc guide captioning service unit in use at the Kabukiza which has to be attached to the back of the seat in front and read, something of a distraction from what is happening on stage.

What became apparent with the later New Year Kabuki performances was that the character of the gangster Ishikawa Goemon, whose appearances were a current recurring theme throughout both Year End and New Year performances, is, or has become, extremely popular in a way not seen before by this reviewer. Not that this is a criticism as it made for very entertaining viewing throughout and a lovely Christmas Day treat.

The December 2018 performances at the Kabukiza Theatre celebrated the 130th anniversary of the opening of the theatre.

ichikawa chusha as the sumo ikazuchi in kozuke mochi kabukiza dec 2018 resize

Ichikawa Chūsha as the sumo wrestler Ikazuchi in ‘Kozuke Mochi’ © Shochiku

The first play of the afternoon matinee began with an adaptation from a Kansai style Rakugo (storytelling) tale first performed in 1915 by the Ōsaka comedian Fujiyama Kanbi called ‘Kōsuke Mochi’ (Kōsuke’s Rice Cakes) about Kōsuke, a rice seller who has bankrupted himself by over sponsoring a Sumo wrestler called Izakuchi. So much so in fact that he is forced to sell his sister into prostitution to cover his debts. Yet on his way home he encounters Izakuchi and gives him the money he has just got for his sister. In spite of pleas to return the money he is ignored and yet at the denouement all is well that ends well with Izakuchi revealing his role in supporting Kōsuke without revealing till the last what he was doing.

Though Rakugo does often tend to have a general humorous element to it as this play unfolded with a fair few twists and turns in the fortunes of Kōsuke it turned into more of a moral tale with a revealing denouement about the nature of compassion. The translation from Rakugo to Kabuki worked remarkably well with sterling performances in the main roles from Ichikawa Chūsha as the Sumo wrestler Izakuchi and Onoe Matsuya as the rice cake merchant Kōsuke.

kabukiza december 2018 mini poster main nakamura kazutaro resize

Mini poster advertising ‘Osome Hisamatsu Ukina no Yomiuri’ © Shochiku

In the main play of the afternoon Nakamura Kazutarō performed seven roles in Tsuruya Namboku IV’s play ‘Osome Hisamatsu Ukina no Yomiuri’ (The Love Story of Osome and Hisamatsu) otherwise known as ‘Osome no Nanayaku’ (The Seven Roles of Osome) in 3 acts and 7 scenes in which a tragic love affair is played out between Osome and Hisamatsu whilst Hisamatsu goes in search of a lost family heirloom, the sword Goō Yoshimitsu which has been lost. In the process they come up against the tobacco seller Oroku, and the villain Kihé who has stolen the sword and its certificate.

Supervised by Living National Treasure Bandō Tamasaburō the performance seemed somewhat overlong though this seems to be a traditional element in this style of Kabuki probably in order to provide a window onto the virtuosity and versatility of the lead actor with Kazutarō succeeding admirably even through a haze of jet lag.

nakamura kazutaro as geisha koito in osome hisamatsu kabukiza dec 2018 resize

Nakamura Kazutarō as Geisha Koito in ‘Osome Hisamatsu’ © Shochiku

Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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Review: Shochiku Grand Kabuki – Salle Jean Vilar  

Review: Spring and New Year Kabuki in Tōkyō – Part One Shinbashi Enbujo and the Kabukiza

Spring and New Year Kabuki in Tōkyō – Part Two National Theatre of Japan and Asakusa Kōkaidō

Review: Spring and New Year Kabuki in Tōkyō – Part One Shinbashi Enbujo and the Kabukiza

Book Review: Japanese Plays – Classic Noh, Kyogen And Kabuki Works





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