"Heikegani" was premiered in April 1912 in Ôsaka at the Naniwaza, starring Onoe Baikô VI and Sawamura Sôjûrô VII.
"Okamoto wrote "Heikegani" at age 39 from childhood memories of a popular Edo picture book in which a young fisherwoman encounters the spirit of Tamamushi, a Heike court lady from the Heian Period (794~1185). Inspired by the illustrations of Tamamushi in the book, the playwright created the character of a proud, modern woman who is unwilling to passively accept others' choices and is prepared to use violence to achieve her ends. Yet Tamamushi's passion drives her to madness, causing her to kill her own sister and the man her sister wants to marry. Ultimately, it leads her to her own self-annihilation." (Sasaguchi Rei)
"Heikegani" is made up of 1 act, divided into 2 scenes, which runs for just over an hour.
Dan-no-Ura no Tatakai
Yashima no Tatakai
The famous story of the Genji warrior Nasu no Yoichi in the fierce 1185 Battle of Yashima between the Genji and Heike clans: Nasu no Yoichi shot an arrow through a fan held by Tamamushi, so foretelling the fall of the Heike clan at Dan-no-Ura (the Inland Sea) the following month.
The play opens as Ugetsu, a Heike general-turned-Buddhist-monk, comes across three children on a beach overlooking Dan-no-Ura, who have caught a kani (crab). They call it heikegani (Heike crab) because the markings on its red shell remind them of the contorted faces of the Heike warriors as they perished in the recent offshore battle. After convincing the youngsters to release the crab, he meets Tamakoto, Tamamushi's younger sister, who now makes her living through prostitution. Tamakoto has been disowned by Tamamushi because of her involvement with Nasu no Yogorô, Nasu no Yoichi's younger brother. Tamamushi is obsessed with destroying the Genji clan, Nasu no Yoichi included, and has been performing a nightly ritual that is attended by seven heikegani. Dressed in a ceremonial costume, she pledges revenge to the giant crabs as she calls them by prominent Heike names. On stage the crabs are manipulated by stagehands covered in black who make them crawl realistically in front of her shabby veranda. When Tamakoto brings Nasu no Yogorô to Tamamushi to obtain her permission to marry him, Tamamushi serves them sake she has poisoned by cursing and soaking heikegani meat in it. As the young couple feel the effect of the poison, she strikes them with her ceremonial fan made of hinoki (cypress) until they die. In the final, haunting scene, Tamamushi, her red trousers dragging behind her, walks into the roaring sea during a raging storm, led by one of the heikegani.
Source: Sasaguchi Rei
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