Home > Reviews, Theatre > Review: January 2019 New Year Kabuki: Part Two – Asakusa Kokaido Public Hall and the Kabukiza

Review: January 2019 New Year Kabuki: Part Two – Asakusa Kokaido Public Hall and the Kabukiza

Part two of a two part review!

Kabuki 2019 reviewAsakusa Kokaidō Public Hall Shinshun New Year Kabuki

The matinee kicked off with an Otoshidama – Nenshi Goaisatsu, a special kōjō (ceremony), for new year greetings during which one of the company appears on stage, on this occasion Onoe Matsuya, dressed in formal Edo era attire during which he described some of the conventions of Kabuki, highlights to watch out for in the upcoming performances and which are his favourite local hang outs.

…and of course the ever popular famous thief Ishikawa Goemon made his appearance with the first performance of the matinee in the very entertaining Edo style dance drama ‘Modorikago Iro ni Aikata’ (The Returning Palanquin). The two palanquin bearers, Yoshirō (Nakamura Tanenosuke), the chic one who is in reality Mashiba Hisayoshi the ruler of Japan (to avoid the historical censors this was a Kabuki name for the real historical ruler Hashiba Hideyoshi) and Jirosaku (Nakamura Kashō), the virile one who is in reality Ishikawa Goemon, debate the virtues of their home towns Ōsaka and Edo. They call Tayori (Nakamura Umemaru), a kamuro (a child apprentice from the Pleasure Quarters) out of the palanquin to talk about the Pleasure Quarters in Kyōto. As Yoshirō and Jirosaku reveal their true identities it is revealed that they are in fact sworn enemies. A lovely start to the afternoon.

Shinshun Asakusa Lead actors

The lead actors breaking open and serving the lucky sake to fans outside the Asakusa Kokaidō Public Hall prior to the New Year Shinshun Kabuki matinee © T Skingle

Shinshun Asakusa 2

Asakusa Kokaidō Public Hall Foyer © T Skingle

Part of the Heike-Genji (Taira-Minamoto) conflict cycle was the much more serious and dramatically heroic second act ‘Yoshikata Saigo’ featuring, in a storming performance by Onoe Matsuya, the main character Yoshikata, the younger brother of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, who is feigning illness and is isolated in his mansion. With the Taira Clan in the ascendant it is a very risky situation for Yoshikata whose servant Orihei (Nakamura Hayato), in reality the Minamoto commander Yukitsuna, is assessing Yoshikata’s loyalty to the Minamoto which he eventually perceives as genuine. Taira no Kiyomori’s men arrive and try to force Yoshikata to kick his dead brother Yoshitomo’s skull which he cannot do. A battle ensues and Yoshikata is mortally wounded, dying as he hands over the white Minamoto banner to Orihe/Yukitsuna’s wife Koman (Bandō Shingo) in one of those wonderful tableau’s that Kabuki does so well as the denouement of a play!

Shinshun Asakusa 1

Asakusa Kokaidō Public Hall Shinshun Kabuki billboards © T Skingle

A very entertaining afternoon ended with the dance drama ‘Imohori Chōja’ (The Success of a Potato Digging Man) about a widow who holds a dance party to find the best dancer to be the husband for her daughter Midori Gozen (Bandō Shingo). The potato digger Tōgorō (Bandō Minosuke) who is in love with her isn’t a very good dancer so he describes the process of potato digging as part of his performance which goes down so well with the locals that he is declared the best in Japan!

New Year Grand Kabuki at the Kabukiza

Grand New Year Grand Kabuki at the Kabukiza January 2019 mini poster

Mini poster for the Grand New Year Kabuki at the Kabukiza © Shochiku

The matinee at the Kabukiza began with ‘Shitadashi Sanbasō’ (Sanbasō with his tongue stuck out) which is classed as a ‘matsubamemono’ (dance drama performed on a stage modelled after that of the Nō theatre). The play is a variant based on the ritual performance named ‘Okina‘ (downloadable PDF link) from the Nō theatre which is a celebratory dance to wish for a good harvest and prosperity. This particular version is slightly unusual as it takes its title from the fact that at the climax of the performance the character called Sanbasō (Nakamura Shikan) actually sticks his red tongue out to ward off evil as he dances. A perfect start to an afternoon’s celebration of New Year Kabuki.

The first drama of the afternoon ‘Kichirei Kotobuki Soga’ (Meeting in the Snow) is a play the plot of which parallels that of ‘Soga no Taimen’, this version having been revised by Imai Toyoshige. The Soga brothers in this play, the cautious one Soga no Ichiman (Nakamura Shichinosuke) and the impetuous one Soga no Hako’ō (Nakamura Shikan) match those in ‘Soga no Taimen’; Soga Jūrō and Soga Gorō respectively, and it is Kudō Suketsune Saemon’s wife Naginoha (Nakamura Fukusuke) who appears in this play and not Suketsune himself as in ‘Soga no Taimen’. The Soga brothers’ sagas are a usual staple for the New Year/Spring Kabuki programmes. The brothers, as usual, are out to avenge their father’s death at the hands of Sukestune though in this version they are disguised as itinerant harukoma (hobby horse) entertainers. It was interesting to see just how much this play varied from the familiar and popular ‘Soga no Taimen’ and though the play finished with a similar tableau it was somewhat underwhelmingly much tamer.

Having seen the celebratory and pre-eminent Goruden Combi duo Taka-Tama (Bandō Tamasaburō and Kataoka Nizaemon) perform ‘Kuruwa Bunshō’ (Yoshidaya) (Love Letters from the Licensed Quarter), a representative Kamigata Sewamono play (Kyōto-Ōsaka region domestic drama), at the Minamiza theatre in Kyōto in December 2003 made for a very high standard to hold up against any subsequent performances of the play. Happily both Matsumoto Koshirō’s Izaemon, wearing the famous, and traditionally shabby, ‘Kamiko’ kimono traditionally made of Japanese paper which includes love letters from his lover, and Nakamura Shichinosuke’s courtesan Yugiri, wearing a purple headband to express her lovesickness for Izaemon, expressed the human touch and humour of Kamigata dramas perfectly. And Yugiri’s purposeful display of the stunningly beautiful ‘uchikake’ over robes in the latter stages of the play was absolutely worth waiting for!

The third play of the afternoon, ‘Ichijō Ōkura Monogatari’ (The Story of Lord Ōkura) is a tales about Tokiwa Gozen (Nakamura Kaishun), formerly the wife of Minamoto Yoshitomo who was killed during the conflict between the Minamoto and the Taira clans, and her current husband Lord Ichijō Ōkura Naganari (Matsumoto Hakuō). The reigning Lord Taira-no-Kiyomori was in love with her and for a while had her as his concubine but as he had lost interest in her she has been married off to Lord Ichijō Ōkura Naganari who, to all around him, appears to be a complete imbecile whose main focus seems to be simply enjoying Nō plays. A former retainer of Lord Minamoto-no-Yoshitomo by the name of Yoshioka Kijirō (Nakamura Baigyoku) and his wife Okyō (Nakamura Jakuemon) are plotting to begin the overthrow of the Taira clan and wish to ascertain the loyalty of Tokiwa Gozen. With it being such a dangerous time for anyone still loyal to the Minamoto all is not as it seems as the back stories and subterfuge play out the key pivotal points in the play, Tokiwa Gozen’s archery practice where she reveals the picture of Kiyomori hidden behind the archery target, and the revelation of Ichijō Ōkura’s true intentions as he ceases his pretence as a dolt and reveals his true feelings. Once again having seen Kataoka Nizaemon and Nakmura Jakuemon play, respectively, Ichijō Ōkura and Tokiwa Gozen and Kataoka Gatō and Kataoka Hidetarō play, respectively, Yoshioka Kijirō and Okyō, at the Minamiza in December 2003 here was yet another high standard for the current cast for this performance to live up to which, whilst they were unable to surpass, happily lived up to!

Photos and article (in Japanese)


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

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