KANADEHON CH█SHINGURA
   
Play title Kanadehon Chűshingura  In Japanese
Authors Takeda Izumo II
Miyoshi Sh˘raku
Namiki Senryű I
History

The play "Kanadehon Chűshingura" was originally written for the puppet theater (Bunraku) and staged for the first time in the 8th lunar month of 1748 in ďsaka at the Takemotoza. It was adapted for Kabuki the same year and staged for the first time in the 12th lunar month of 1748 in ďsaka at the Kado no Shibai [casting].

"The vendetta on which this play is based is an actual incident which took place in 1702 involving the retainers of a Lord Asano. When it was dramatized, the names and details, and even the era were changed because of censorship by the ruling Tokugawa government, which was not portrayed in a favorable light." (Jean Wilson, April 1998)

Structure

This play is made up of eleven acts. When it is staged as a t˘shi ky˘gen, 8 sections are performed (full day performance): acts 1, 3, 4 plus a travel dance are usually staged in the matinee, and acts 5, 6, 7, and 11 in the evening. There is also a Kamigata/hengemono version of "Kanadehon Chűshingura", which is sometimes performed with the leading star (usually Nakamura Ganjir˘) playing 7 roles: acts 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are staged in the matinee, and acts 7, 9 and 11 in the evening.

Key words Adauchi
Adauchimono
Ak˘ R˘shi
Chűshinguramono
Gidayű Ky˘gen
Giri/Ninj˘
Gishi
Gishi Ky˘gen
Kabuki Sandai Meisaku Ky˘gen
Shijűshichishi
Summary

Act I: Kabuto Aratame
Examining the Helmet
--> A dedicated summary: "Kabuto Aratame"

The Sh˘gun's brother and several lords are gathered for a ceremony to enshrine a priceless helmet which belonged to an enemy of the Sh˘gun. Overseeing the ceremony is the arrogant and obnoxious Moron˘, who is watching that the lords Wakasanosuke and En'ya Hangan carry out everything with due protocol. Moron˘ wants to be sure that the correct helmet is being enshrined and calls for Hangan's wife, Kaoyo, to identify it. Actually Moron˘ covets the beautiful Kaoyo and after the identification is completed and the others leave, he tries to slip her a love letter, but she drops it pretending not to notice. As he tries for a second approach, Wakasanosuke returns and sums up the situation in a second. He tells Kaoyo to hurry home and Moron˘ mutters insult and abuse against the increasingly furious Wakasanosuke.

Act II: Rikiya J˘shi, Matsukiri
The Emissary Rikiya, the Cutting of the Pine Branch
--> Dedicated summaries: "Rikiya J˘shi" and "Matsukiri"

Affronted by Moron˘ĺs behavior, Wakasanosuke discloses to Kakogawa Honz˘, his old retainer, a resolve to kill Moron˘. Honz˘ expresses his support by slicing a branch from a miniature pine tree. However, as soon as Wakasanosuke departs, Honz˘ rushes to Moron˘ĺs mansion to arrange for an apology from Moron˘. Honz˘ acts thus in order to forestall retribution (if Wakasanosuke does draw his sword) required under the Sh˘gunĺs law: the enforced suicide of Wakasanosuke, the confiscation of all his assets, and the dispersal of his retainers.

Act III: Shinmotsu, Ninj˘, Uramon
Presenting the Bribes, the Attack, at the Back Gate
--> Dedicated summaries: "Shinmotsu", "Ninj˘" and "Uramon"

Fearing that the hostility between his master, Wakasanosuke, and Moron˘ will escalate, the retainer Honz˘ arranges to bribe Moron˘ to avoid any incident. A short time later, Wakasanosuke arrives having determined to kill Moron˘ (even though he knows to draw his sword in the Sh˘gun's palace will mean he will have to commit ritual suicide), but unexpectedly the latter prostrates himself and apologizes profusely to Wakasanosuke. In light of Moron˘'s behavior he cannot draw his sword and storms off.

Moron˘'s pent-up anger at having to humiliate himself in front of an 'upstart' is unleashed on the nearest unsuspecting person--Hangan. Matters are made worse when Hangan brings Moron˘ a letter from Kaoyo rejecting his advances, although Hangan is oblivious to the contents.

Moron˘ sarcastically makes comments about Hangan's tardiness--no wonder he's late for his duties with a wife like that at home; he's probably stuck to her like glue and not doing his regular work. Moron˘'s verbal abuse intensifies. He says Hangan is like the carp who lived at the bottom of a small well and thought it was in heaven until it was raised in a bucket and set in a river. It was so confused it swam into a pillar of a bridge, was stunned and died. Hangan is like that, coming from a little mansion to the Sh˘gun's palace. Before long he will run straight into a pillar in the corridor and like the carp die of shock. To look at him, he really does look like a carp. Moron˘ calls his assistant over to come and see a fish dressed in formal robes. He then hits Hangan in the chest with his fan, a gross insult.

An incensed Hangan can stand the insults no more, and starts to draw his sword. Moron˘ retorts that even to loosen his sword from its scabbard by three inches will mean the loss of all his lands. But having lived to such an advanced age already, it was his remaining wish to be killed by a carp. Bitterly swallowing down his emotions, Hangan apologizes, but Moron˘--sticking his nose right up to Hangan's face--says he will give Hangan's duties to Wakasanosuke, as they would be too much for a barbarian like him. As Moron˘ moves, Hangan steps on Moron˘'s long trousers to halt him and slices at him with his sword. Honz˘ dashes out from a hiding place to stop Hangan from killing Moron˘--but thereby robs Hangan of the satisfaction of revenge, which must now fall on his loyal followers.

Noticing a great confusion in the palace, Kanpei, who has been secretly meeting with Okaru outside the palace, rushes to its back gate and asks for permission to enter. He is peremptorily told from inside that his master has already left the palace, having been ordered to confine himself to his house. Kanpei wishes to kill himself by way of apology for his neglect of duty for love but is dissuaded by Okaru, who begs him to go her home together. Kanpei reluctantly agrees. Before they can leave Bannai appears with his servants and tries to abduct Okaru but is repelled by Kanpei.

Act IV: Hangan Seppuku, Shiro Akewatashi
Hangan's Ritual Suicide, Handing Over the Castle
--> Dedicated summaries: "Hangan Seppuku" and "Shiro Akewatashi"

Two envoys of the Sh˘gun, one amenable and the other odious, arrive and read the Sh˘gun's edict, which is that Hangan shall forfeit all his lands and commit seppuku. As for Moron˘, no action is to be taken. Hangan wants to wait until his chief retainer, Yuranosuke arrives, but the latter is delayed and so Hangan has to go ahead and stab himself. Yuranosuke arrives in Hangan's final moments. Looking knowingly at Yuranosuke, Hangan tells him he wants to him to have his seppuku dagger as a keepsake (katami). Yuranosuke understands his lord's secret message to carry out revenge (kataki) on his behalf.

Kaoyo and the other retainers enter and with Yuranosuke offer traditional incense for the dead. It is the custom for the actor who plays Hangan to choose his favorite scent of incense, which is placed in front of Kaoyo. The scent pervades the whole theater and this one resembled sandalwood.

The scene ends with interplay between the surviving retainers about what to do now that they are homeless and masterless. One wily old retainer, Kudayű, fakes loyalty to the group, but will later turn traitor. Some hotheads want to take instant revenge, but Yuranosuke prevails on them to take their equal share of the treasury money and retire to the countryside. However, his real intent, which he reveals as he stands alone in front of the mansion gates, is to carefully and secretly plot revenge on Moron˘.

Travel dance: Ochiudo
The Fugitives
--> A dedicated summary: "Ochiudo"

Okaru, Kaoyo's lady-in-waiting, is in love with Kanpei, one of Hangan's men. Because they had been having a secret tryst, they missed all of the goings on at the palace and Kanpei is stricken with remorse at having failed to be with his master at the end. Okaru prevails on him not to commit suicide, but instead to go with her to her parent's home and live as husband and wife. They travel through the countryside and after hearing rumors about those who plan a vendetta against Moron˘, Kanpei determines to win his place among them.

Act V: Tepp˘ Watashi, Futatsudama
The Musket Scene, Two Bullets
--> Dedicated summaries: "Tepp˘ Watashi" and "Futatsudama"

One dark and rainy night Kanpei is out hunting. He runs into one of Hangan's retainers on a country road and expresses his desire to join their cause. Unsure of Kanpei's trustworthiness, the retainer reveals no details of their plot, but says they are raising funds. Kanpei realizes it is to finance the vendetta and asks to contribute, although he has no ready cash and is dependent on Okaru's parents.

To provide funds for Kanpei, although he knows nothing about it, Okaru has agreed to be sold as a geisha to a Gion pleasure house in Ky˘to. Her father has just finalized the deal and is returning late at night with 50 ryo (the other 50 to be paid on delivery). But as he takes a rest, a robber stabs him to death and steals the money. Suddenly a wild boar rushes by, and shots ring out, but they hit the robber not the boar. Kanpei is horrified when in the pitch dark he finds he has killed a human not an animal, but when he finds the purse on the corpse, his desire to restore his honor prevails, and he rushes off to give the money to the vendetta league.

Act VI: Kanpei Harakiri
Kanpei's Suicide
--> A dedicated summary: "Kanpei Harakiri"

The Gion proprietess is waiting at Okaru's parents' house for the return of the father. Kanpei returns and cannot understand why she is there but slowly as she explains the story, the horrible truth dawns on him. What finally clinches it is that the proprietess has brought the remaining 50 ryo in the same kind of bag that she had given Okaru's father the previous day--a bag which Kanpei recognizes as being identical to the one which held the money he has just contributed to the vendetta. He concludes that he has killed his own father-in-law, and mute with shock he can do nothing but let Okaru leave. Neighbors then rush in with the father's corpse, and before he can gather his wits some of the retainers arrive to return Kanpei's money. They have heard that he was broke and are concerned that his money might have been made by foul means.

In humiliation and shame, Kanpei commits seppuku, and in his dying words gives his version of the story and explains that the death was an accident. The retainers check the father's corpse and find that it has a stab wound, not a bullet wound, and piece the truth together.

Now convinced of Kanpei's honesty, the retainers pull out the scroll containing the signatures and blood seals of those committed to the vendetta, and invite Kanpei to add his to the list. He dies happy that he is included among their names.

Act VII: Gion Ichiriki Jaya
At the Ichiriki Teahouse in Gion
--> A dedicated summary: "Gion Ichiriki Jaya"

This is a long and famous act which takes place in the Ichiriki geisha house in Ky˘to. Okaru works here now and one of the guests is Hangan's chief retainer, Yuranosuke, acting tipsy and pretending to be enjoying his new life of ease. The guise is to divert any suspicion by Moron˘ away from his real motive, for Moron˘ has heard rumors of a potential vendetta and is taking due caution. Yuranosuke is so successful that even some of his own men are convinced that he has given up any idea of exacting revenge. However, Kudayű, once Hangan's retainer but now a spy for Moron˘, tests Yuranosuke by making him eat fish on the anniversary of Hangan's death, thus forcing him to break a religious taboo. To cover his real plans, Yuranosuke complies, although inside he feels as if his body will explode with the agony.

Later, when he believes himself to be alone, Yuranosuke soberly takes out a secret message from Hangan's widow, Kaoyo, and starts to read it. However, Kudayű is hiding under the verandah and reads the paper as Yuranosuke slowly unwinds the scroll further and further. Also, Okaru is in an adjacent room reading the letter reflected in her hand mirror. When Yuranosuke notices her, he realizes sadly that he must kill her to keep his plot secret. He offers to buy out her contract and she is ecstatic, not knowing her planned fate. However, her brother Heiemon comes to the house anxious to be included in the vendetta league. When Okaru whispers to him the contents of the letter she read in her mirror, he guesses that Yuranosuke really intends to kill her, and he asks her to let him kill her instead, for which he might be rewarded by being allowed to join the vendetta. She agrees and Heiemon is just about to do the deed when Yuranosuke, who has overheard their conversation, rushes in and stops them. He now realizes the pair's sincerity, grants Heiemon permission to join the vendetta, and lets Okaru live. Moreover, he guides Okaru's hand to stab Kudayű in his hiding place so that his death can be credited to her late husband, Kanpei.

Act VIII: Michiyuki Tabiji no Yomeiri
The Bridal Journey
--> A dedicated summary: "Michiyuki Tabiji no Yomeiri"

This is a short dance scene that shows Honz˘ĺs wife Tonase and her daughter Konami traveling along the T˘kaid˘ highway to Ky˘to on a desperate journey to unite her with Rikiya. The beauty of the journey and innocent happiness of the young bride contrast with the anxious feelings of the mother, aware that this trip will end in tragedy. There is also a humorous encounter with a boisterous samurai footman.

Act IX: Yamashina Kankyo
The Retreat in Yamashina
--> A dedicated summary: "Yamashina Kankyo"

When Honz˘, the senior retainer of another lord, stopped En'ya Hangan from killing Moron˘, he thought that he was doing a good thing. But his actions earned him the scorn of En'ya's retainers and brought personal tragedy to his daughter who was engaged to Rikiya, the son of Yuranosuke, En'ya's head retainer. The scene shows the tragedy as it affects Honz˘'s wife Tonase and daughter Konami and how ultimately Honz˘ sacrifices his life to atone for his misjudgement.

Act X: Amakawaya Gihei Uchi
At Amakawaya Gihei's Home
--> A dedicated summary: "Amakawaya Gihei Uchi"

Yuranosuke has involved Amakawaya Gihei, a merchant, in the vendetta so as to assemble weapons for the raid. Gihei has sent his wife to her father-in-lawĺs home so as to prevent her from knowing of his involvement. His father-in-law pesters him to divorce her so that he can marry her off to a wealthy man. At this moment some of Yuranosukeĺs men arrive to test Giheiĺs loyalty. Even when they threaten to kill his infant son unless he confesses the location of the weapons, Gihei remains steadfast. Yuranosuke then reveals himself and the fact that Gihei has passed the test. Yuranosuke abruptly cuts off the hair of Giheiĺs wife and declares to the father-in-law that she cannot be married off because she has become a nun. This act is the most infrequently performed of the whole play.

Act XI: Uchiiri
The Raid
--> A dedicated summary: "Uchiiri"

The long-awaited night has come. Deep in December snow the retainers, dressed as firemen, attack Moron˘'s mansion. The villain is discovered hiding in a charcoal shed. The retainers converge on the place, and shout for victory. They leave with the severed head of Moron˘ to place it at the grave of Lord Hangan. We know that they will then all commit seppuku, but that final deed is omitted from the play. It really would be too much to have 47 dead bodies on stage. Even a different actor plays Moron˘ in this last scene, so that the famous actor from Acts 1 and 3 doesn't have to sit around for eight hours just to appear for less than a minute to have his head ignominiously cut off!

All acts (except II, III ("Uramon"), VIII, IX and X) are courtesy of Jean Wilson (April 1998)
Source for acts VIII and IX: Earphone Guide website
Source for acts II and X: Paul Kennelly
Source for III ("Uramon"): Hironaga Shűzabur˘

Comments

"This play is unique in the present day theater, because it is the only play introduced by a puppet. The puppet is positioned atop a box in front of the stage curtain. Although "Chűshingura" was first performed as a Bunraku puppet play, the puppet used today is not a Bunraku puppet but is like a ventriloquist's dummy, which is manipulated by a k˘ken (a stage hand dressed entirely in black with a black net over his face). The puppet performs the role of a stage manager, introducing the names of all the actors to appear in the play, and asking the audience for their kind patronage. The puppet is then removed from the stage." (Jean Wilson, April 1998)

"The curtain opens extremely slowly (unless you know it is supposed to be opened slowly, it looks like the curtain is stuck and is being painfully tugged open inch by inch by a hapless stagehand) while wooden clappers are struck 47 times--one for each of Lord Hangan's samurai. All of the actors in the opening scene are motionless, and do not 'come to life' until the name of their character is mentioned in an introductory prologue given by a chanter. This is also a throwback to the practice of the puppet theater and is performed in the Kabuki theater today only in "Chűshingura." (Jean Wilson, April 1998)

Illustrated bill for the drama "Kanadehon Chűshingura", which was staged at the Moritaza in the 2nd lunar month of 1749

Prints & Illustrations

 
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