Home > Reviews, Theatre > Review: January 2019 New Year Kabuki: Part One – Shinbashi Enbujo and the National Theatre of Japan

Review: January 2019 New Year Kabuki: Part One – Shinbashi Enbujo and the National Theatre of Japan

Part one of a two-part review.

Shinbashi Enbujo

new year kabuki at the shinbashi enbujo january 2019 mini posterThe first performance of the afternoon was ‘Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura’, (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees), one of the three most popular plays of the Kabuki repertoire (which includes ‘Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy’, and ‘Chūshingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers’). The particular act of the play performed was ‘Torii Mae’, (Before the Gate of the Fushimi Inari Shrine). This part of the play focuses on the story of how Shizuka Gozen (Otani Hiromatsu) the lover of Minamoto Yoshitsune (Otani Tomaemon) who is following Yoshitsune on his flight from his older brother Yoritomo, is restrained in her attempts to follow Yoshitsune. To restrain his lover Shizuka Yoshitsune enlists the help of his retainer Satō Tadanobu (Nakamura Shidō) who is in fact not the real Tadanobu but is indeed a magical fox. As a fairly standard and very popular act from a very popular play it was an entirely delightful introduction to the afternoon’s repertoire with the three main actors performing their roles perfectly.

The second and main performance of the afternoon was ‘Kiwametsuki Banzuin Chōbei’, (The Renowned Banzuin Chōbei).

This is one of a number of plays where the famous character Banzuin Chōbei (Ichikawa Ebizō), an otokodate or chivalrous commoner appears. One well known being the popular play ‘Suzugamori’ (The Execution Grounds at Suzugamori), another less well known play being ‘Banzui Chōbei Shōjin Manaita’ (The Chopping Board for Banzui Chōbei’s Lentern Fare) written by Sakurada Jisuke I, as well as a few plays based on the theme of the revenge of the Soga brothers including ‘Okuni Iri Soga no Nakamura’ (The Soga Brothers of Nakamura entering their Home Province), and ‘Midori no Hana Harutsuge Soga’ (The Soga Brothers and Green Flowers announcing Spring).

Almost Hamlet like the curtain opened on the setting of the stage of the Murayamaza Kabuki theatre replete with actors performing ‘Kinpira Homon Arasoi’ (Kinpira’s Holy Dispute), a play within a play. Chōbei stops the rampage of a drunken samurai who bursts onto the stage which sets the scene for the subsequent revenge by the drunken samurai’s boss the hatamoto, or banner knight, Mizuno (Ichikawa Sadanji).

A delightful appearance was made, to much applause, by Kangen Horikoshi, Ebizō’s son, who played Chomatsu, the son of Chōbei.

Everything was going so well when unfortunately in the third scene Otani Tomoemon, who played Mizuno’s top fighter Kondo, missed his cue. Ebizō’s frustration became increasingly obvious as the dramatic tension caused by the long pause ratcheted up a couple of levels above where it was supposed to be while they waited for the character Kondo to make his appearance. Even with the importance of ‘ma’, or pauses, in Kabuki plays this was what might be called a very pregnant pause. Then a wooden practice sword, or bokken, broke into pieces in the same scene which from the response of the actors didn’t look like it was supposed to happen even though they were mock fencing… …and finally as the swivel stage was turning to show the final scene a stage hand dragged an elongated tatami cover off the hanamichi walkway through the audience which fell off one side of the hanamichi dragging the bags of the audience along the floor.

However, those faux pas aside, the play was very successful building inexorably towards the climax with the inevitable assassination of Chōbei in the bathhouse.

The final play of the afternoon was ‘Mimasu Kuruwa no Kasauri’, aka ‘The Umbrella Seller’ which told the story of an umbrella seller named Misuji no Tsunayoshi, who is in reality the famous thief Ishikawa Goemon. He makes an appearance in the Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarters where he is investigated by the local constabulary who are suspicious of his identity. He pulls umbrella after umbrella out of the inside of his costume and as each umbrella opens hands them out to the other characters around him. This dance drama was absolutely wonderful! A full panoply of the sort of Kabuki spectacle that so delights audiences; colour, humour and tableaus. Some of the actors were wearing Kamawanu yukata – a unique fabric design, traditional to the Ichikawa family. The pattern shows a sickle or hook (kama 鎌), a circle (wa 輪), and the syllabic character nu (ぬ), to spell out the word ‘kamawanu’ meaning ‘we can cope with anything and we don’t mind’, expressing the character of the people of the Edo period. All in all wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! For this reviewer the highlight of the end of year and New Year Kabuki!

Ebizō’s other child, his daughter Horikoshi Reika appeared during the evening show. Of course it was during this performance run on Monday 14th January 2019 that Ebizō announced his intention to take the auspicious name of Ichikawa Danjūrō in 2020 to coincide with the Tōkyō Olympics which will make him the thirteenth Kabuki actor of that name while his son Horikoshi Kangen will become Ichikawa Shinnosuke VIII.

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© Shochiku

Photos and articles

Performances https://www.kabuki-bito.jp/news/5235 (in Japanese)

Name announcement https://www.kabukiweb.net/news/2019/01/pressconference_190114.html (in English)

The National Theatre of Japan

new year kabuki at the national theatre 2019 mini poster

Mini poster advertising ‘Himejijo Oto ni Kiku Sono Ishizue’ © National Theatre of Japan

For the New Year Kabuki at the National Theatre of Japan in the Hanzomon District of Tōkyō a Toshi Kyōgen (full length play) ‘Himejijo Oto ni Kiku Sono Ishizue’ (Protecting the Foundation of Himeji Castle and its Clan) based on Namiki Gohei I’s ‘Sode Nikki Banshū Meguri’ (The Grasses of Autumn: A Tour of the Country of Harima) was performed.


Himeji Castle © T Skingle

Himeji Castle is one of the finest surviving examples of early 17th century Japanese Castle architecture in Japan and is located 45 minutes by Shinkansen south of Kyōto and is a World Cultural Heritage site.

This is a rare revival and performance run of the play ‘Banshū Meguri’ which was revived in 1991 at the National Theatre 212 years after it was last performed when it premiered in 1779 at the Kadoza Theatre in Ōsaka. Prior to the start of the performance there was a Shintō ‘Kitsune’ (Fox) Blessing in the foyer in front of an expectant audience.

fox blessing

Shintō ‘Kitsune’ (Fox) Blessing in the foyer of the National Theatre of Japan © T Skingle

There are a number of ghostly legends associated with the castle, one of which is associated with this play, the legend of Princess Osakabe Hime who appears in the castle dressed in a ceremonial robe and red hakama trouser skirt. In the play this turns out to be Kinuta-no-Mae (Nakamura Tokizō), the widow of the dead Momonoi Clan leader, who is living in the keep of the closed and partially ruined castle soliciting warriors to join her cause to fightback against the evil and duplicitous Innami Naizen, the Chief Retainer of the Momonoi Clan (Oneo Kikugorō).

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(left) Nakamura Tokizō as Kinuta-no-Mae (right) Oneo Kikugorō as Innami Naizen © National Theatre of Japan

The story revolves around a plot to usurp power from the Momonoi Clan who rule the province of Harima and how a couple of magical foxes who are indebted to the Momonoi Clan for having saved the life of the young magical fox Fukuju help the clan to see off the challenge to the Clan authority. This current revival features Oneo Kikugorō VII who performs along with his theatre troupe and his grandchildren Terajima Kazufumi as Heikichi the son of the Momonoi heir Kugajirō (Nakamura Baishi) and his mistress Onoe (Onoe Ukon), and Terajima Mahoro as the young magical fox Fukuju.

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(left) Onoe Kikunosuke as the magical fox Kojorō (right) Onoe Shōroku as the magical fox Yokurō © National Theatre of Japan

In any Kabuki play where young children appear they are invariably greeted with much applause and not surprising given their young ages, the setting and the script they have had to memorise and which they must speak. Needless to say both Kikugorō’s grandchildren carried off their parts with great aplomb.

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(left) Onoe Kikunosuke as Otatsu Kosakabe Mondo’s wife (right) Onoe Shoroku as Heisaku a farmer © National Theatre of Japan

As with most Kabuki plays the main story, the back stories and the roles of the characters are quite convoluted and this play was no different. Needless to say with the help of the magical foxes the day is saved and the play ends with the most marvellous and colourful tableau (something which Kabuki excels in) where the Momonoi Clan and its supporters gather with the character Innami Naizen on a plinth at its centre declaring their intent to meet Naizen on the battlefield. Bravo! Otowaya!

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.

Related Posts:

Review: Tokyo Year End Kabuki – December 2018 

eview: 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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