|Play title||Meiboku Sendai Hagi
Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki
|Authors||Nagawa Kamesuke I
Sakurada Jisuke I
"Meiboku Sendai Hagi" has a complicated history: it was staged for the first time in the 4th lunar month of 1777 as a 5-act drama written by Nagawa Kamesuke I and Isojii Sosuke, which was produced in ďsaka at the Naka no Shibai [casting]. This drama was inspired by "Keisei Mutsu no Tamagawa", the first play dealing with the Date succession troubles, which was staged in the 1st lunar month of 1767 at the Naka no Shibai. In the 7th lunar month of 1778 Sakurada Jisuke I wrote a similar drama, which was titled "Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki" and staged for the first time in the 7th lunar month of 1778 at the Nakamuraza [casting]. Then, the playwrights Matsu Kanshi I, Takahashi Buhei and Yoshida Kadomaru wrote a play in 9 acts for the puppet theater, using the title "Meiboku Sendai Hagi" and mixing elements from both the original "Meiboku Sendai Hagi" and "Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki". This puppet drama was staged for the first time in the 1st lunar month of 1785 in Edo at the Yűkiza. It was afterwards adapted to Kabuki and evolved during the nineteenth century.
"The play is based on a real event involving the Date clan of Sendai during the 1660's, but censorship prevented contemporary incidents being dramatized, so the drama was set during the Muromachi Period (1336-1568), and names were changed to disguise the protagonists' identity." (text courtesy of Jean Wilson 1998)
The 17th Date clan was replaced by the 15th Ashikaga clan and Lord Date Tsunamune, the cause of the succession troubles, became Ashikaga Yorikane in the Kabuki drama.
The current version of "Meiboku Sendai Hagi" is made up of 3 acts and 6 scenes. "Hanamizubashi" is the first act of this drama.
The daimy˘ Ashikaga Yorikane is in love with the courtesan Takao and has neglected his official affairs. As a result, Yorikane's uncle Onitsura and Yorikane's evil retainer Nikki Danj˘ gathered their supporters to plot against their Lord, with the help of Yamana S˘zen, an important and influential retainer of the Shogunate, to instate Onitsura as the head of the clan. As part of their vicious plan, they have decided to kill both Yorikane and his son and heir, the young boy Tsuruchiyo.
One night, a group of murderers on Danj˘'s payroll are hidden in the dark, waiting for Yorikane on his way home from his daily visit to the pleasures quarter, where he met his lover Takao. When Yorikane's palanquin arrives near the Hanamizu Bridge, Danj˘'s henchmen leap out and thrust their swords into the palanquin. They are surprised to find no dead body within it. Yorikane has swiftly slipped out from the opposite side of the palanquin and is now amusedly watching the confusion of his would-be murderers. It is followed by a tachimawari, in which Yorikane easily outclasses his attackers because of his fighting skills.
Kinugawa Taniz˘, a faithful retainer of Yorikane, who used to be a sum˘tori, bursts upon the stage and is deeply relieved to find that Yorikane is still alive and unhurt. Taniz˘ puts the attackers to flight while nonchalantly carrying on a conversation with the equally composed Yorikane. He tells Yorikane to go on ahead, and gives instructions on how to find a place where Taniz˘ will meet him later. The instructions are given in an original manner, with Taniz˘ using an assailant, twisting some part of his body to force him to assume various poses to illustrate his instructions.
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