OKUNI GOZEN
   
Play title Imay˘ Kasane Kesh˘ no Sugatami
Okuni Gozen Kesh˘ no Sugatami (original title)
Author Tsuruya Nanboku IV
History

The play "Okuni Gozen Kesh˘ no Sugatami" was staged for the first time in the 6th lunar month of 1809 at the Moritaza as a summer ghost play [casting]. This drama was divided into 2 parts: the first part (ichibanme) mixed the "Tenjiku Tokubŕ" and "Nagoya Sanza/Fuwa Banzaemon" worlds; the second part (nibanme) mixed the "Kasane" and "Matahei" worlds. This play was revived and modified several times. Some scenes from "Okuni Gozen Kesh˘ no Sugatami" were also integrated in Tsuruya Nanboku IV's drama "Tenjiku Tokubŕ Ikoku Banashi" revivals from 1812. Its famous ghostly kamisuki scene (act 1 scene 2) was reused in Tsuruya Nanboku IV's masterpiece "T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan" in the 7th lunar month of 1825. The last performance of a variant of "Okuni Gozen Kesh˘ no Sugatami" was staged in the 7th lunar month of 1856 at the Moritaza under the title "Kikugasane Yuzuri no Sugatami". Then it sank into oblivion for 119 years.

In the modern times, "Okuni Gozen Kesh˘ no Sugatami" was revived for the first time at the National Theatre in September 1975. A new script was written by Imai Toyoshige for a second revival supervised by Tobe Ginsaku in March 2001 and staged in the same theater under the title "Imay˘ Kasane Kesh˘ no Sugatami".

Structure

The production of "Imay˘ Kasane Kesh˘ no Sugatami" (March 2001) was made up of 3 acts and 8 scenes:

Act Scene (English) Scene (Japanese)
I On Mount Ibuki Ibukiyama Sanchű
  Hair combing by Okuni at Sehei's house Yotsugi Sehei Uchi Okuni Gozen Kamisuki
  Gang˘ji Temple in Yamato Province Yamato no Kuni Gang˘ji
II The precincts of Ikudama Shrine Ikudama Keidai
  At the Izutsu Geisha House Kasane Izutsu
  The Bank of Kizugawa River Kizugawa Zutsumi
III Yoemon's house Yoemon Uchi
  Catching carp in the Kizugawa River Kizugawa Koi Tsukami
Key words Kaidanmono
Kamisuki
Kasanemono
Keren
Koi Tsukami
Natsu Ky˘gen
Summary

Act I, Scene 1: On Mount Ibuki

The scene is Mount Ibuki, deep in the mountains of Omi Province. A lady-in-waiting named Natsuno and a footman named Tsunesuke appear. They are slowly heading for the castle of Lord Hosokawa Katsumoto [1430-1473] with a secret letter. The two used to be attendants of the Sasaki family. Lord Sasaki has been ordered by the government to give up his domain, because Okuni Gozen caused some trouble while her master was absent from the province. She also lost the family treasure, a scroll with a design of a carp on it. At the same time Ich˘-no-Mae, the late Lord Sasaki's sister, and her fiancÚ Motonobu, have set out on a journey in search of the scroll. They escort Toyowakamaru, the late lord's new-born son, in hopes that with the help of Lord Hosokawa he will be installed at the head of his father's domain after they retrieve the scroll. Unfortunately, however, Natsuno and Tsunesuke are attacked by Danpachi and robbed of the all important letter.

Act I, Scene 2: Hair combing by Okuni at Sehei's house

Okuni Gozen, in a state of poor health, is hiding herself at Sehei's house. He had been in her service until she was dismissed from her high position because of an illicit love affair with the late Lord Sasaki's trusted vassal, Motonobu. Her love for Motonobu continues to be so deep that even now she is ill in bed thinking of him. Old Sehei hangs a lantern for her, and a doctor comes to see her. While gossiping he touches upon Motonobu's relationship with Ich˘-no-Mae. Upon hearing of it Okuni's face turns livid. Then comes Danpachi with the secret letter to Lord Hosokawa from Motonobu. Okuni sees the letter and fondly remembers Motonobu. Contrary to her expectations, the letter reveals that Motonobu approached Okuni as part of a trick to get the lost scroll. This fact brings her anger to a climax. Despite Sehei's dissuasions and her own ill health, Okuni casts a curse upon Motonobu. Sehei, warning Okuni of her delicate condition, gives her a mirror to see what she is doing to herself. Only then does she realize how haggard her appearance is. She begins making up her face and dressing her hair. Every time she combs her hair strands fall out one after another. Blood even drips from the roots of her hair. Finally her face turns into a maniacal expression of rage. She throws a fierce look in the direction of Motonobu and Ich˘-no-Mae luring them back to her.

Act I, Scene 3: Gang˘ji Temple in Yamato Province

At Gang˘ji Temple Motonobu and Ich˘-no-Mae happened to see the same dream, in which Okuni met with a tragic death. Then Sehei comes to hold a memorial service for someone who has died a disturbingly unnatural death. Motonobu and Ich˘-no-Mae join him without knowing that it is Okuni that they are praying for. When the charming melody of the koto is heard, something weird and ghostly seethes around the temple. Suddenly Motonobu and Toyowaka disappear behind a bamboo screen. When it is raised there are Motonobu and Toyowaka with the ghost of Okuni, looking as she did just before her death. Holding the sought after scroll, she confronts Ich˘-no-Mae with her bitter grudge, and advances towards her threatening to kill Toyowaka and thus exterminate the Sasaki family. Matahei hastily comes forward, unwraps an image of the Goddess of Mercy and points it at Okuni. Suddenly she shrinks under the influence and power of its virtue. Taking advantage of this moment, when her guard is down, Toyowaka and Motonobu escape. As Okuni regretfully clutches the scroll, the temple collapses into ruins around her, and she turns into a grotesque skeleton. The entire area changes into a field full of yellow flowers under a blue moon. Then the ghost of Okuni reappears as she looked in her prime, clad in a beautiful kimono. She ascends into the sky playing with fireflies and exclaiming, "What a grand sight this is!"

Act II, Scene 1: The precincts of Ikudama Shrine

Ikudama Shrine is bustling with sales pitches and the voices of barkers. Among the people is My˘rin, currently a mistress in the Izutsu Geisha House. She is looking restlessly for her adopted daughter Kasane, a popular geisha at Izutsu. My˘rin is uneasy because Kasane may be reconciled with her estranged husband, Yoemon, now an indigent. He has been raising a small baby (in fact, Toyowaka) but the child is now with a nurse at T˘roku's house. T˘roku is displeased with Yoemon because he has recently stopped giving him a monthly allowance for the baby's care. Consequently, T˘roku handles the little one roughly, with the result that the baby's talisman becomes lost.

T˘roku's boss Itt˘ finds it just as Yoemon comes by in the plain clothes of a commoner. This is a good chance for T˘roku to ask Yoemon for money. But Yoemon can't afford to pay the allowance. On top of this, he is being urged by Rihei, a pawnbroker, to put a down payment on a scroll which turned up at the pawnshop the other day. Rihei says someone else is offering 300 gold coins for it. Thus Yoemon is driven into a corner. The evil merchant Sukeshir˘, however, offers help. Sukeshir˘ gets T˘roku to consent to wait a little more by giving him a small amount of money and somehow persuades Rihei to agree to postpone the deadline for his payment for a while. Sukeshir˘ realizes that the scroll must be the family treasure of the Sasakis and cunningly changes the scroll in secret for a bamboo blower.

Thanks to this unexpected aid by Sukeshir˘, Yoemon has been saved for a little while, but he has no idea how to proceed from here. Kasane appears with some money she has managed to raise for him, but it is not enough. He thanks her for her effort on his behalf and feels great responsibility for making such a naive young lady sacrifice her innocence. When he tries to commit suicide, Kasane stops him and admonishes him for his thoughtlessness. To see the young couple on such good terms My˘rin fears that they may get back together again. She urges Kasane into a palanquin she has hired. The rumble of thunder is heard, so My˘rin promptly picks up an old sickle as a charm against it and makes off with the palanquin, leaving Yoemon alone in his despair.

A short time later, Yoemon happens to see Lord Hosokawa's vassal Ry˘suke. From him Yoemon hears that the Sasaki family will be able to regain its power if they return the scroll. T˘roku and his boss Itt˘ come in just as Yoemon has parted from Ry˘suke. They have disguised themselves as street performers, but, in fact, they are retainers of Lord Yamana Sozen [1404-1473] who is searching for the last remnants of the Sasaki family in order to eradicate them all. They learn that Yoemon's baby is not his, but Toyowaka, heir to the Sasaki family. A nefarious plan comes to mind.

Act II, Scene 2: At the Izutsu Geisha House

Sukeshir˘ is at the Izutsu Geisha House to expedite his marriage to Kasane. Emerging from a public bath comes Kasane, with a heart full of anxiety about Yoemon. Upon seeing Kasane, My˘rin takes a memorial tablet and skull from the butsudan (Buddhist altar). They are Okuni's. My˘rin used to be her maid. By showing these two things to Kasane she persuades her to abandon her idea of becoming Yoemon's wife once again. She goes on to tell her that a woman who falls in love too deeply will end up with a miserable fate. Kasane ostensibly accepts Sukeshir˘'s proposal of marriage on condition she gets 300 gold coins as a betrothal gift, saying it is for her mother's later life.

Yoemon enters the house only to be confronted by the spectacle of the newly wed couple celebrating with the exchange of nuptial cups. In response to Yoemon's close questioning, Kasane says something to alienate him and thus hide her true intentions. In addition to losing face, Yoemon is ejected from the house by My˘rin and Sukeshir˘. Yet it goes against Kasane's conscience to have deceived Yoemon and lied to My˘rin. She feels compelled to inform Yoemon of her true feelings and that she has gotten the funds he needs. She writes a letter and asks her junior geisha, Kosan, to hand it to him.

Kosan is, in fact, Ich˘-no-Mae. Yoemon sheltered her at the Izutsu Geisha House to escape the enemy's attention. Ich˘-no-Mae jumps for joy saying, "Thanks to this money the scroll will return to the Sasakis. We can accomplish our task. Then Motonobu and I can get married!!" On hearing the name of Motonobu, Kasane suddenly emits, "It's regretful!!" She seems to be possessed and the room is mysteriously enveloped in an eerie atmosphere. Her gold coins turn into snakes then as if by magic Okuni's skull sticks to Kasane's face.

Ich˘-no-Mae dashes toward Kasane and takes it off her, but her face is already horribly disfigured. Kasane is possessed by Okuni's jealous spirit. She suddenly becomes suspicious about the relationship between Yoemon and Ich˘-no-Mae, turns on Ich˘-no-Mae with a maniacal expression of envy, and raises the sickle over her head preparing to kill her. Barely managing to deflect the blow, Ich˘-no-Mae escapes.

Act II, Scene 3: The Bank of Kizugawa River

As the thunder rolls, Ich˘-no-Mae reaches a bank of the Kizugawa River. She encounters Kasane who once again forestalls her. Ich˘-no-Mae desperately denies having a relationship with Yoemon. But Kasane, possessed by Okuni's spirit, turns a deaf ear to her pleas and finally murders her. Seeing this Yoemon, in a fit of anger, stabs Kasane from behind. He manages to revive Ich˘-no-Mae, and she miraculously comes back to life thanks to the power of the Moon Seal, the second heirloom which she has secretly kept for the Sasaki family. She shows Yoemon the letter earlier written by Kasane. Thus he comes to realize Kasane's true feelings for him. All he can do now is pray for her, and so he does.

As they leave the scene Yoemon and Ich˘-no-Mae pass by Oriku and Sukeshir˘. Motonobu also appears. They are all searching for the precious scroll when Oriku discovers that Sukeshir˘ is carrying it. Then she finds Yoemon's kimono sleeve, stained with Kasane's blood.

Act III, Scene1 Yoemon's house

Yoemon with his sister's help gives shelter to Ich˘-no-Mae. Sukeshir˘ and Rihei come by, bringing a box that is supposed to contain the scroll. Yoemon, at a complete loss as to how to raise the rest of the money for it, snatches the box away, but finds that there is no scroll, only a bamboo blower. Sukeshir˘ seizes this chance to press Yoemon hard with questions about his sheltering of Ich˘-no-Mae and the killing of Kasane. Oriku prevents Sukeshir˘ from pursuing the matter further. She declares to Yoemon that she will disown him and deprive him of the honorable samurai name, Yoemon, which her late husband held. She goes on to inform him that he had married Kasane without getting her permission. In fact he has, without knowing it, married one of the members of the enemy side. Because Kasane's mother, My˘rin, once served Okuni who had schemed to overthrow the Sasaki family with the secret help of Lord Yamana.

Now, Yoemon must return to his former name and status, a lowly townsman named Matahei. Yoemon thinks it the result of his evil deeds and is about to commit suicide with the sickle, and thus take complete responsibility for not being able to comply with his aunt and his master's expectations. At this moment Ich˘-no-Mae appears and restrains him from doing so. Then all the people present stand aghast as Oriku tries to take the scroll away from Sukeshir˘, who is keeping it hidden in his bosom. His possession of the scroll having been found out, Sukeshir˘ runs away in a flurry. Yoemon chases after him, but he is unable to move as the possessed Kasane has cast a spell over him. Seeing Yoemon suffer from this spell, Oriku suddenly takes the sickle and stabs herself. She says this is the only way to defeat Kasane's magic power. She reveals that she has been worried about the destiny of the Sasaki clan and thinks Yoemon must do everything in his power for their reinstatement. She knows he killed Kasane because she found Yoemon's sleeve near Kasane's dead body, but Kasane's jealous fury was caused by the power of the snake. Oriku's blood can defeat that power since she was born in the year, the month, the day, and the exact time of the snake according to the zodiac. As Yoemon holds the sickle stained with Oriku's blood, Kasane's ghost vanishes. Yoemon says a quick pray for Oriku's soul and then rushes after the scroll.

Act III, Scene 2 Catching carp in the Kizugawa River

At the mouth of the Kizugawa River, T˘roku and Itt˘ are about to throw Toyowaka into the river to kill him. He is rescued by Ry˘suke who happens to pass by. Next comes Sukeshir˘ with the scroll still in his bosom and Yoemon in pursuit. The scroll seems to jump out from Sukeshir˘'s bosom, and strangely enough, the carp depicted on it slips out and begins swimming in the river. The legend of this great picture painted by the great master Tosa Mitsutaka is realized. Yoemon, who when he was known as Matahei used to be Mitsutaka's protÚgÚ, jumps into the river to catch the fish. He manages to hold it down and thrusts his sword into its eyes thereby forcing it to return to the scroll. In the meantime, Sakaki Gozen [1440-1496, maiden name Hino Tomiko], the wife of Sh˘gun Ashikaga Yoshimasa [1436-1490], arrives escorted by Motonobu, and Ich˘-no-Mae. Toyowaka, the Sasaki family's heir, is with them. In recognition of Yoemon's daring deed, the reinstatement of his late master's house is authorized by Sakaki Gozen. In addition, Yoemon is nominated as the official chief painter of Ginkakuji Temple to be built in the near future under government auspices. All present celebrate the Sasaki family's continuing prosperity.

This summary has been written by Watanabe Hisao and edited by Jeff Blair [website]

Onoe Eizabur˘ I playing the role of Tosa Matahei Shigeoki in the drama "Okuni Gozen Kesh˘ no Sugatami", which was staged at the Moritaza in 6th lunar month of 1809 (print made by Utagawa Toyokuni I)

Onoe Matsusuke I playing the role of Okuni Gozen in the drama "Okuni Gozen Kesh˘ no Sugatami", which was staged at the Moritaza in 6th lunar month of 1809 (print made by Utagawa Toyokuni I)

 
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