|Play title||Genroku Chűshingura|
There are few plays more popular in Kabuki than "Chűshingura" or the "Treasury of the Forty-Seven Loyal Retainers", the story of a true incident when a samurai lord attacked another in the Sh˘gun's palace, was immediately sentenced to ritual suicide and his domain confiscated. After much hardship, forty-seven of the lord's retainers avenged their lord's death. When the event occurred, it was a sensation because it proved that despite a century of peace, samurai values had not disappeared completely. But when the event was dramatized, censorship and the fact that so little was actually known about the historical event forced the play to depend on easily understandable melodrama. In the modern period, from 1934 to 1941 even as Japan was at war in China and then plunged in World War II, Mayama Seika (1878~1948) painstakingly reworked this play into "Genroku Chűshingura", a vast cycle of plays in ten parts focusing on different incidents and different characters in this revenge classic adding historical details reflecting the Genroku period. Each part centers on a sober discussion of men with very different ideals and ways of life, the words often based on the actual historical record. But each part also culminates in a scene that depends on Kabuki acting and staging for moments of great dramatic power that cannot be found in any other part.
Here is the table of the first performance for each play:
From 1941 to 1943, the Zenshinza troupe sucessfully staged the full cycle, which was adapted for the screen by the director Mizoguchi Kenji with the same actors in a 2-part movie (1941 and 1942).
"Genroku Chűshingura" is a cycle of 10 plays, which are made up of 18 acts and 37 scenes:
|Key words||Ak˘ R˘shi
Edoj˘ no Ninj˘
This play begins right after the attack and follows the debates about how Asano Takumi-no-Kami should be treated and culminates in his ritual suicide.
Daini no Shisha
This play shows the response in the home province of Ak˘. The clan has only gotten a message that a great disaster has overcome their lord, but they have not yet heard how their lord has been punished and what it means for their clan. Head retainer ďishi Kuranosuke and the others wait for the crucial second messenger that will tell them that the worst has happened.
Saigo no ďhy˘j˘
The time to hand over the clan's castle has come and the members of the clan, led by Kuranosuke, discuss what to do. Although he keeps his determination a secret, Kuranosuke decides that he will avenge his lord's death and he reveals this determination in a conversation with his old friend Iseki Tokubei.
There are many stories of the historical Kuranosuke spending his time in the pleasure quarters of Kyoto and this is the subject of the famous seventh act of "Kanadehon Chűshingura". In the puppet play, he pretends to be dissolute to deceive spies, but in Mayama Seika's version of the story, it is also because he is gathering the resolution to carry out the vendetta as he broods over the proper way to bring the retainers together.
Ohama Goten Tsunatoyoky˘
One of the most popular parts of this play shows Tsunatoyo, who will be the next Sh˘gun, seemingly detached from the vendetta, but in fact, intensely interested in the progress of the quest of the band of loyal retainers. The play culminates in a confrontation between Tsunatoyo and Tominomori Sukeemon, one of the retainers as Tsunatoyo tries to find out what the plans for the vendetta are.
One snowy night, Kuranosuke visits the widow of their lord and says that he plans to retire to the countryside. In fact, he has come to say a final farewell before the vendetta, but he cannot say this openly, since he is surrounded by spies. The widow of his lord scolds him severely for forgetting his master, before she realizes the truth.
After the successful attack on Kiraĺs mansion, the former retainers of Asano present themselves to the shogunate for judgment. Lord Sengoku, an official of the shogunate questions Kuranosuke about the incident and gradually comes to admire him as he realizes how thoughtful and careful Kuranosuke was in planning the attack and justifying their cause.
ďishi Saigo no Ichinichi
"ďishi Saigo no Ichinichi" is a particularly popular play, which is often performed independently and although it is the last play in the cycle, was the first to be written and its success inspired the cycle of 10 plays. In this play ďishi Kuranosuke is shown being torn between the severe samurai duty that has made their mission a success and the desire to let a young couple meet one last time before they must die. The masterless samurai of the Ak˘ clan have successfully completed their unauthorized vendetta and are being housed at the mansion of a samurai lord while their fate is being decided. The vendetta has caused a sensation and a young boy comes to meet the men as they are imprisoned. The boy turns out to be a woman in disguise, Omino, hoping to meet her betrothed, Isogai Jűr˘zaemon, one of the group. But until they know whether they will be able to have honorable deaths by ritual suicide or die by execution like common criminals, the leader of the group ďishi Kuranosuke, cannot allow her to meet her fiance.
(Made using a text from Earphone Guide website)
"Ironically, though this kind of play models itself upon Western plays, it is usually the least popular among Western audiences. One reason for this is possibly the fact that if Westerners wanted to see dialogue drama, they would have plenty of great examples to choose from in the West! Furthermore, plays such as, "ďishi Saigo no Ichinichi", are so often heavy-handed in their approach; their, "meanings", are too obvious, and though they profess to consider the psychological depth of main characters, they often end up with one-dimensional moralising, as though the author were standing on a soapbox and lecturing the audience." (Paul M. Griffith)
The poster of the production of "Genroku Chűshingura", which was staged in December 1970 at the National Theatre
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