THE DARK SIDE OF KABUKI

The Ejima-Ikushima affair (1714)

Some time in 1714, Ikushima Shingor˘ was playing at the Yamamuraza with much success. At the same time, one of the most prominent among the ladies-in-waiting in the castle was to be sent to pray at the temple of Z˘j˘ji Temple, as a representative of the mother of Sh˘gun Ietsugu. Owing to the fact that several daimy˘, or feudal lords, and hatamoto, or direct vassals of the Sh˘gun, had selected this day to repair to the temple to take part in Buddhist services, the Court lady's visit was postponed, and Ejima chosen to fulfil the duty.

Accordingly she sent a messenger to acquaint the priests that she intended to arrive very early in the morning, and that no preparations would be necessary for her reception. She would, however, find it highly gratifying if arrangements could be made whereby she and her party could pay a visit to a theatre in Sakai-ch˘. As might have been expected, the reply of the priests to this missive was that the theatre part of the lady's programme was impossible, since it was outside their jurisdiction.

This made Ejima very angry, and she arranged matters to suit herself. There was a young clerk, or banto, in the employ of a Yedo dry-goods establishment, and he was accustomed to go to the castle regularly for orders. Here was a likely person to carry out her commands, and he was accordingly commissioned to prepare the gallery of the Yamamuraza for a party of one hundred persons.

As planned Ejima proceeded to Z˘j˘ji, but hurrying over her spiritual duties, and presenting but a portion of the money, materials, and other gifts that were designed for the priests, she kept the remainder to be distributed as personal favours at the theatre. She was accompanied by several other ladies-in-waiting of first rank, as well as those who occupied lesser positions in the secluded world of the Sh˘gun's household; also by male attendants.

The arrival of this company at the Yamamuraza must have presented a most unusual spectacle in theatre street. Yamamura Ch˘dayű, the proprietor of the theatre, with the leading actors, Ikushima Shingor˘ and Nakamura Seigor˘, clad in ceremonial costumes, welcomed the distinguished visitors at the entrance to the theatre. During an interval between the plays a feast was held, and Ejima, who became slightly intoxicated, spilled a bottle of sake, the contents of which fell down on the heads of a party below. It happened to be a samurai of the Satsuma clan accompanied by his wife. Although one of Ejima's party apologised, the irate samurai left the theatre.

Ejima was advised to return to the castle without delay, but she would not listen, determined to enjoy the adventure to the utmost. Yamamura Ch˘dayű invited the ladies to his private residence, where Nakamura Seigor˘ and his wife assisted in the entertainment. This young woman was very beautiful, a graceful dancer as well as accomplished shamisen player, and had often been called to the castle to amuse the Sh˘gun's mother.

It was not until late at night that Ejima retired, returning to the castle, and entering by an inconspicuous gate. Ejima, who was a bold and independent character, 33 years of age, with an income of 600 koku of rice to her credit, patched up a story of the day's proceedings for the benefit of the Sh˘gun's mother, omitting all reference to her wild escapade at the theatre.

In due time the whole matter came to the knowledge of the officials, when it was discovered that Ejima had been carrying on relations with Ikushima Shingor˘ for seven years, and that she had taken one of this actor's daughters into the service of the Court under the false pretence that the girl was from a samurai family.

The Government dealt severely with all those who had participated in the carousal. Ejima was sentenced to exile on a lonely island, her fate being softened at a later date through the clemency of the Sh˘gun's mother, who pleaded for her, when she was taken into the custody of the daimy˘ of the Province of Shinano. It was the custom of these days for the entire family to suffer when one member had committed an offence, and consequently the death penalty was meted out to Ejima's elder brother, while a young brother was exiled. Other relatives shared in the punishment.

As for Yamamura Ch˘dayű, Ikushima Shingor˘, and Nakamura Seigor˘, they, too, were exiled. The Yamamuraza was first deprived of its licence, then the building was demolished and the property confiscated by the Government. Such was the end of the Yamamuraza, for it never dared to raise its head again among the Edo shibai.

ZoŰ Kincaid in "Kabuki, the Popular Stage of Japan"

The Ennosuke-stalking woman case (1998)

On 29th June 1998, just three days before the opening of Ichikawa Ennosuke's play at the Kabukiza in T˘ky˘, came the surprise announcement that the ďsaka District Court had slapped an injunction on an unnamed 51-year-old female fan who had been stalking him for the previous six years. She was prohibited from approaching within 200 meters of him, banned from the theaters at which he performs and ordered to pay YEN 500,000 in compensation.

According to the information revealed in court, the woman had attended almost every performance Ennosuke had given since his show at Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture in February 1992. Apparently she always sat in the front row and would stare at him with an expressionless face like a mask, even during comical scenes, making it very difficult for him to maintain his concentration. During the intervals she told other audience members that she was engaged to Ennosuke and that they would be married soon. At each show she would wear one of a selection of flamboyant kimonos, returning to her hotel to change between the matinee and evening shows. She stayed at the same hotels and took the same trains as Ennosuke. Her behavior began to scare the actor and his acting suffered. He was also forced to change hotel reservations on several occasions.

The woman had already been expelled from Ennosuke's fan club in 1977, apparently for not paying her dues, although she is evidently quite well off since she paid for first rows tickets twice daily, plus the cost of hotels and transportation and her kimonos. In fact, one report said that she spent one and a half million yen a month to finance her fixation. The newspapers noted that the woman, whose brother is a wealthy business owner, had gone through a divorce prior to starting to stalk the actor in 1992. Ennosuke had tried to avoid taking the case to court, but in 1994 she made to attack him and his companion, Fujima Murasaki, with an umbrella as they left a theater backstage exit. The next year he successfully filed for a provisional disposition to stop the woman from entering theaters where he was performing, but she continued to stalk him. His agency asked the obsessed fan to stop, but the request was ignored, and she even booked a seat in the same first class section of the plane he took to Thailand for his tour in August 1996 and stayed in the same hotel, so later the same year he filed the civil suit.

When Ennosuke was approached by TV interviewers after the court ruling was announced, he acknowledged that he approved of the court decision but said he would rather make no further comment as he did not wish to aggravate the woman. However, he said he was pleased if the decision meant that performers' constitutional rights as individuals had been strengthened. This is the very first case in Japan in which a court has legally protected an actor's rights against a stalker.

Courtesy of Jean Wilson

The first name-changing ceremony of the 21st century (2000-2001)

For the first Kabuki name-changing ceremony of the 21st century, the Kabukiza pulled out all stops to fete Band˘ Yasosuke taking over the prestigious name of Band˘ Mitsugor˘, formerly held by his late father. Yasosuke dropped a bomb on the public in June 2000, just four months after the official succession notice. He revealed that he and his second wife, former Fuji TV announcer Kond˘ Sato, were divorcing after only 18 months of marriage. Multiple reasons were posited for the breakup, including the hardship Kond˘ experienced caring for both of her husband's sick parents until they passed away, and only being able to meet her husband for a few days out of their entire matrimonial period. However, it seems the clincher was being told not to get pregnant because it would create problems in the future. Yasosuke was married previously for 14 years to former Takarazuka star Kotobuki Hizuru. They had two daughters and a son, Minosuke, now 12 years old, who is heir to the Band˘ empire and he doesn't need rival claimants. Of course there are plenty of examples where two brothers enter Kabuki, such as Kankur˘'s sons Kantar˘ and Shichinosuke. The point is that they have the same mother, and as the older brother, Kantar˘ will in time take over his father's name. However if Kond˘ Sato had had a son, he would have been the first son of Yasosuke and Kond˘, just as Minosuke is a first son. In families passing on the traditional Japanese arts, these things still matter. However, one wonders why such an important issue wasn't settled before the wedding took place.

Whatever the reasons, a divorce during the run up to a Kabuki succession is not considered good luck or good form. At this point the president of Sh˘chiku, the entertainment consortium that owns the majority of Japanese cinemas and theaters, including the Kabukiza, where the celebrations were slated to be held, stepped in and gave his personal blessing to the event proceeding. It was a shrewd business decision that saved face all round. Had the event been cancelled huge losses would have been made from both money already spent on preparations and lost income from the inflated ticket prices, not to mention leaving Yasosuke with egg on his face, wondering how long he would have to eat humble pie before he could take a second shot at becoming Mitsugor˘. However, with the problem resolved, the impetus picked up again and in October Yasosuke held the official opening party, announced which plays he would perform, and participated in the traditional festive parade through the grounds of the Asakusa Kannon Temple. In December he played his last role under the stage name Yasosuke, and an anniversary photo exhibition at Mitsukoshi Department Store in Nihonbashi from December 26 marked the final event before the shűmei.

The widely advertised Mitsugor˘ special event extended over the two months of January and February 2001. The theater was decorated with mochibana (tiny round pink and white rice dumplings that look like flowers) and many lanterns decorated with the names of those who had sent Mitsugor˘ their best wishes for the occasion, such as the beverage company Suntory, the Okura Hotel and Aoyama Gakuin, where his son goes to school. Outside the theater a huge board showed Mitsugor˘ in the traditional kneeling position all actors take for their shűmei stage announcement. The pieces he chose to perform were those closely connected with his family, those suitable for celebrating a name succession and those which best showed off his ability to play tough, manly or fighting roles.

Mitsugor˘ seemed very tense during his k˘j˘ (special announcement) on the first day. For a k˘j˘, all of the senior actors in the same or related acting houses line up on stage with the starring actor in the center. They each make anecdotal comments about the actor and then together ask for the audience's favor toward the star. Afterwards, Mitsugor˘ commented "I never expected I'd be that nervous at my k˘j˘. I'm fine when I appear in other actors' k˘j˘, soů! In plays I'm acting a role but in the k˘j˘ I'm myself, and you do almost no rehearsal for it." K˘j˘ are normally considered rather solemn, but in the February k˘j˘, Sadanji brought laughter from the audience when he said, "I realize I shouldn't have mentioned Mitsugor˘'s divorce in last month's k˘j˘, but as my wife has just left me, I'm going to ask him for some advice on what to do." Kikugor˘ followed by saying, "I wonder why Mitsugor˘ has started to cook and clean for himself recently. Maybe it's to practice for a role."

Courtesy of Jean Wilson

The Shichinosuke scandal (30 january 2005)

After a several-month blitz of advertising hype heralding the succession to one of the most famous names in the Japanese Kabuki world, it was touch and go in February whether Nakamura Kankur˘ (50) would in fact go ahead the following month with his illustrious change of name (shűmei) to Nakamura Kanzabur˘ XVIII. The reason was that just a month before the long-awaited ceremony the popular Kabuki star found himself with egg all over his face because of the drunken misconduct of his younger son, Nakamura Shichinosuke (21), the details of which were blazed across the headlines of the newspapers and TV gossip shows the next morning, when they should have been filled with upbeat reports of a name-changing party held in Kankur˘'s honor the previous evening.

Even now the exact details of what happened to Shichinosuke in the early hours of January 30th when he took a taxi after leaving the celebratory party given at a T˘ky˘ hotel to honor his father are unclear. What is known is that the very inebriated young man was arrested for punching a policeman who had tried to detain him after he failed to pay the questionably high taxi fare. This gave him the dubious honor of being the first Kabuki actor to be arrested in more than 100 years! The last time was 1871, when Ichikawa Gonjűr˘ was arrested for his involvement in a murder.

However, a name-changing accompanied by scandal is a much more recent occurrence. For the first Kabuki shűmei ceremony of the 21st century, Kanzabur˘'s good friend since childhood, Band˘ Yasosuke, took the prestigious name of Band˘ Mitsugor˘. Just four months after the official succession notice, he revealed that he and his second wife were divorcing after only 18 months of marriage, something not considered good luck or good form during the run up to a Kabuki succession.

Economic considerations played a large part in the decision to go ahead with the succession to the new name of Mitsugor˘, and exactly the same can be said in the case of Kanzabur˘. There was even more to lose by not going ahead than there was by canceling or postponing the event, which would have left huge losses from money already spent on advertising and preparations, including boxed sets of DVDs such as "Kankur˘ V Final" and books about "Kanzabur˘ XVIII", as well as lost income from ticket sales, not to mention all the gifts that had already been presented to Kanzabur˘ and embarrassing him even more.

In the end, Sh˘chiku and the Kabuki hierarchy were clearly happy to take no public action and to leave the mess in the actor's own hands. Kanzabur˘ takes his role as father very seriously and demands the proper respect from his sons as the head of the household. This is one of the reasons that Shichinosuke's behaviour caused such a shock to both his father and the public. Everyone knew that Shichinosuke would be in deep trouble with his father and would be duly chastised.

As it turned out, Kanzabur˘ banned his son from the stage for the first of the three one-month celebratory performances at the Kabukiza. The theater notified the public that at the request of his father, Shichinosuke would not be appearing in the March production and that his roles had been assigned to other actors. Shichinosuke was forced to act as his father's assistant cum gofer backstage, watching all the festivities but not being allowed to take part in them. His name did not appear in the program or flyers and he was not allowed to take part in the lineup of actors during the k˘j˘, the on-stage announcement ceremony. Punishment indeed.

Everyone wondered whether Shichinosuke's blunder would be mentioned on stage, especially as Sadanji was one of the actors in the k˘j˘ lineup. Sadanji is famous throughout the Kabuki world for his unpredictable remarks, and true to form, he made some quips about Shichinosuke, but not every day, and by the time the April and May k˘j˘ came round, Sadanji had moved on to another topic. A couple of other actors in the k˘j˘ made a point of asking the audiences' favor for "both of Kanzabur˘'s sons", meaning both the elder Kantar˘ and the younger Shichinosuke.

In April, Shichinosuke appeared in just one play, with only one line of dialogue, in a bit part as one of several geisha at a party. This was also part of the punishment; as such a low-ranking role would never normally be given to an actor of his rank. Shichinosuke appeared in the k˘j˘ lineup, but just said his name and shut up.

It was only in May that Shichinosuke was restored to taking a starring role alongside his father and appearing in the congratulatory k˘j˘. From the enthusiastic applause of the audience it was clear that he had been publicly forgiven, and there was an implicit understanding that the embarrassing events of the past were now to be considered water under the bridge. No one has mentioned the incident since.

Courtesy of Jean Wilson

 
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