MORITA KAN'YA XII

Stage names:

Morita Kan'ya XII
Morita Kanjir˘ III
Nakamura Jisabur˘

Other name: Furukawa Shinsui

Guild: Kinojiya

Line number: J█NIDAIME (XII)

Existence: 1846 ~ 21 August 1897

Connections:

Adoptive father: Morita Kan'ya XI

Sons: Band˘ Mitsugor˘ VII, Morita Kan'ya XIII

Daughter: Band˘ Tamasabur˘ III

Disciple: Band˘ Tar˘

Career:

1846~1863: born in Edo. His father, Nakamura Kanzaemon, is ch˘moto at the Moritaza. He is adopted by Morita Kan'ya XI, who gives him the name of Morita Jusaku at an unknown date.

11th lunar month of 1863: his adoptive father Morita Kan'ya XI dies.

12th lunar month of 1863: Morita Jusaku takes the name of Morita Kanjir˘ III.

2nd lunar month of 1864: he starts his career, producing the drama "Kinoenu Soga Gadai Kunibashira" at the Moritaza.

11th lunar month of 1864: Morita Kanjir˘ III takes the name of Morita Kan'ya XII and becomes the new official zamoto of the Moritaza.

9th lunar month of 1872: the Moritaza leaves the district of Saruwaka-Ch˘ and is rebuilt in the district of Shintomi-ch˘. The building architecture is traditional but Kan'ya makes many changes:

  • The new theater is bigger than the old one

  • Toilets within the theater
  • It has some seats for foreigners
  • ...
  • February 1875: Kan'ya creates a stock company to manage his theater, which is renamed Shintomiza for this occasion.

    28 November 1876: a fire breaks out in the district of Sukiya-ch˘ and destroys both the Nakabashiza and the Shintomiza.

    June 1878: the Shintomiza reopens, more modern than the first one.

    September 1879: Kan'ya produces at the Shintomiza an original play "Hy˘ryű Kidan Seiy˘ Kabuki" ("A strange story about drifters and Western Kabuki"!), written by Kawatake Shinshichi II and staged with some Western actors. The plot is about the adventures of a group of Japanese in Europe and in the USA. The play includes several Italian-style operettas, which disconcert the audience. This original performance is a complete commercial failure.

    October 1886: he becomes disciple of the playwright Kawatake Mokuami and takes the pen name of Furukawa Shinsui.

    August 1894: because of many financial difficulties, Kan'ya has to hand over the management of the Shintomiza. He keeps on working as a producer.

    July 1897: Kan'ya produces his final program at the Shintomiza.

    Comments:

    "The foremost and most progressive theatre manager of Meiji was Morita Kan'ya. He laboured hard to improve shibai and elevate the status of the actors. Unquestionably he was a benefactor, and if he erred in following after false gods, and was under the impression that the superior theatre of the Occident should be his pattern, he was no more astray than hundreds of others who allowed themselves to be swayed by the worship of the West.

    The first step of Kan'ya was to obtain permission to move the Moritaza to the centre of T˘ky˘. The theatres grouped together in Saruwaka-ch˘ were too far removed, and so close together that competition was harmful. If the theatres had been left in this condition, they would have speedily deteriorated. The people were no longer eager patrons of the theatres, and the actors were lukewarm. Kan'ya did not sit down and wait for prosperity; he made it. He was quick to understand the trend of the times, and that it was fatal to repine at the decline of Kabuki, and thought it should keep pace with the rapid development of the nation in this remarkable period of transition. His new theatre was opened in 1872 in Shintomi-ch˘, not far from the residential quarter of T˘ky˘ set apart for foreigners. He made many changes, doing away with some of the long-established customs, which greatly astonished the good people of that day. His efforts were crowned with success, and he soon secured as supporters some of the most important men in the realm.

    It was characteristic of Kan'ya that he should have cast aside his old friends for new. The fish-market was one of the strongest guilds in the town, and its members were a power when it came to the theatre. For years the fish dealers were among the staunchest supporters of the Moritaza, and Kan'ya had been in the habit of consulting these independent spirits on important occasions. But now he found they would be a clog on his actions. He knew he would lose their sympathy and support, but decided to sever relations with them. To Kan'ya's credit, he had early recognised the genius of the ninth Danjűr˘, having known and observed him from his youth, and with good judgement he invited Danjűr˘ to become the head actor of his new theatre. Danjűr˘ owed much to the fish-market people, since they had long been patrons of his family. The actor stood between two fires, and at last was obliged to leave the manager. Danjűr˘ then acted in a minor theatre with but poor success, for it soon had to close on account of financial losses, and he became a strolling player in the country. When he returned he was in a desperate plight, and was glad to accept an offer from Kan'ya to play in his theatre, the name of which, on account of debt, he had changed from Moritaza to Shintomiza, after the name of the ch˘, or street, in which the theatre was built.

    One of Kan'ya's innovations was to light the theatre with gas. This created a great sensation at the time, although extraordinary Western innovations of all sorts were now common. He then gave special performances, sending out invitations to ministers of state, army and navy officers, and members of the diplomatic corps. The ushers on this occasion all wore frock coats, and the event was a great success. As might have been expected, the plays Kan'ya selected did not please the regular patrons of shibai. Men of letters and returned travellers offered advice, and the Governor of T˘ky˘ prefecture, with well-known scholars of the day, attended rehearsals. The reformers objected to Kabuki conventions. They wished to do away with the onnagata, the revolving stage, the hanamichi, and raise the moral tone of the plays. Kan'ya even entertained the idea that a theatre would one day be built under the patronage of the Imperial Household. He also tried what he called a night shibai, in imitation of the Western theatre, but this the playgoers did not like, and considered they had been cheated, having been so accustomed to the long, peaceful, all-day regime.

    In consequence of Kan'ya's strenuous efforts, Kabuki was elevated with a vengeance, and the actors were no longer looked down upon, and referred to as "riverside beggars". This was largely due to the discovery that the actors of other lands enjoyed a much higher place in society than those of Japan, and the sudden change of front with regard to the theatre was but a phase of westernisation. Mokuami, the chief playwright of the Meiji era, wrote a play based on a novel by Bulwer Lytton. Thirty-three Dutch residents of Yokohama presented a green curtain to Kan'ya, who was very much pleased, and later when he extended an invitation to the foreigners in Yokohama to attend a performance, the programmes were printed in English. The first distinguished visitor from overseas to be invited to Kan'ya's theatre was a German prince. Such dignitaries as princes of the blood, ministers of state, and the plenipotentiaries of foreign countries, were among Kan'ya's guests. Later on a British official from Hong-Kong was entertained, and the Shintomiza became, truly, a social centre. General Grant, former President of the United States, visited the Shintomiza during his stay in Japan in 1879. It was a proud moment for Kan'ya when, attired in the new Japanese badge of respectability, a frock coat, and accompanied by Danjuro similarly clad, they stepped out before the curtain and thanked Grant for honouring the theatre with his presence, and for the gift of a red curtain that he had presented to the manager. But the height of Kan'ya's Western intoxication was reached when he invited a Frenchwoman to sing, and English and American actors to play in the Shintomiza. In this Kan'ya showed little insight, for the audience could not understand the Western entertainers, and the venture ended in a serious loss to the theatre. Hence Kan'ya's enthusiasm for reform cooled, and he turned to Danjűr˘, Kikugor˘, and Sadanji as his only hope.

    Kan'ya had been at the head of theatre affairs in T˘ky˘ for so long that he received a shock when he heard of a project to launch a new theatre, the Kabukiza, which was to be the largest and finest ever built in Japan. He started an opposition movement, concluded an alliance of four T˘ky˘ theatres, and bound the chief actors to stay with him. The greatest theatre in Japan was the plan of Fukuchi ďchi. When the theatre was completed, Fukuchi went to Danjűr˘ and Kikugor˘, to invite them to play in the Kabukiza, but they refused, as they had pledged themselves to Kan'ya. Fukuchi was surprised at the tactics of the Shintomiza manager, but pretended not to be disappointed, joked, and said he would have to paint his face and dance in their stead. But the best theatre and the best actors could not long remain apart. The shrewd Kan'ya, seeing an advantage to himself, at last consented to lend the three stars provided he was given a certain large sum. This was agreed upon, and his actors appeared at the opening performances of the Kabukiza, which were a pronounced success from the start, while Kan'ya was enabled to pay off his pressing debts.

    Morita Kan'ya, the twelfth, died in 1897, after a strenuous life spent in trying to improve the theatre, leaving behind him nothing but a legacy of bankruptcy to his three young sons. He has been described as a man of extremes, proud one minute, humble the next. Sometimes he treated the actors as though they were his own children, and again regarded them as his enemies. Prosperity and failure were his portions. A newspaper writer, commenting upon Kan'ya, likened him to a long-tailed pheasant pleased with its plumes that stood beside a river looking at its reflection, and at last fell in and was drowned." (ZoŰ Kincaid in "Kabuki, the Popular Stage of Japan")

    Morita Kan'ya XII

    The Morita Kanjir˘ line of actors

    The Morita Kan'ya line of actors and theater managers

     
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