Three Plays About the Ak˘ R˘shi Vendetta:
December is the month in which in 1702, the former retainers of the lord of
Ak˘ avenged their lordĺs death by killing the man their lord tried to kill.
It was dramatized in "Kanadehon Chűshingura" ("The Treasury of Loyal Retainers"),
first performed in the Bunraku puppet theatre in 1748, probably the most famous play in the repertory of Bunraku and Kabuki.
"Chűshingura" is based on a historical incident in which
a samurai lord attacked a senior official of the Shogunate within the Sh˘gunĺs palace
and was immediately sentenced to commit ritual suicide and his domain confiscated.
After a year of hardship, forty-seven of his former retainers attacked and killed
the official that their lord tried to kill, avenging his death. The incident was
a sensation at the time because it showed that even after a century of peace,
the warrior values of loyalty on which the Tokugawa state and society were
supposedly based were still alive and well. Because of censorship in the Edo Period,
the play was set in the distant past and characters had thinly disguised names,
for example, in the Edo theatre, head retainer ďishi Kuranosuke is known as
ďboshi Yuranosuke, his lord Asano Takumi-no-Kami is known as En'ya Hangan and
the man they attacked, Kira K˘zukenosuke is known as K˘ no Moron˘.
But the craze for plays about the incident didnĺt end with "Chűshingura"
and there were many plays showing the stories of various people involved in the incident.
In December at the National Theatre there will be three plays, old and new,
that show the incident from the point of view of the participants, the men who
fought on the side of the victim and interested bystanders.
Horibe Yahŕ: a play by the modern playwright Uno Nobuo (1904~1993)
originally written in 1939 for Nakamura Kichiemon I.
It tells the story of Horibe Yahŕ (Nakamura Kichiemon), the oldest member of the vendetta
who was a senior official in the Edo mansion of the clan. But the play begins
fifteen years before the attack. Yahei and his wife are mourning the death of
their son and happen by as a masterless samurai named Nakayama Yasubŕ (Nakamura Kash˘)
valiantly fights in a vendetta at Takadanobaba. The play follows Horibe Yahŕ as
he tries to get Yasubŕ to become his adopted son and ends on the day of the
vendetta as Yasubŕ marries Yaheiĺs daughter and finally takes Yaheiĺs name
to become Horibe Yasubŕ, one of the most famous members of the vendetta.
Shimizu Ikkaku: Shimizu Ikkaku was famous for being one of the
most valiant fighters on the side of Kira K˘zuke-no-Suke, the enemy of the Ak˘
retainers. This play by Kawatake Mokuami, the last great playwright of Kabuki,
was written in 1873. It shows Ikkaku (Ichikawa Somegor˘) who drinks and is belligerent
and crashes a party held by his fellow guard Makiyama J˘zaemon (Nakamura Karoku) on a
snowy winter night. The others insist that the Ak˘ retainers will not attack on
such a cold night, but Ikkaku insists that they must be alert and argues
drunkenly with everyone. He refuses to listen to the advice of his older
sister (Nakamura Shibajaku), but then the sound of a signal drum is heard.
Ikkaku is reconciled with Makiyama and they go to fight to defend their master Kira.
Matsuura no Taiko: Lord Matsuura (Nakamura Kichiemon) lives next door to the
enemy of the loyal retainers and is disgusted because they do not seem to be
interested in avenging the death of the lord. He is especially upset because
he studied with the same fighting teacher as Kuranosuke, the senior retainer
who should be leading the vendetta. Moreover, he learns from the haiku teacher
Takarai Kikaku (Nakamura Karoku) that his student ďtaka Gengo (Ichikawa Somegor˘) who should be part of
the vendetta left a poem suggesting that he was forgetting his former lord and
going to take service with another samurai lord. Gengo's sister Onui (Nakamura Shibajaku)
serves Lord Matsuura and in disgust he is about to dismiss her, when there
is a disturbance from next door. The attack has begun, and in joy, Lord Matsuura
counts out the strokes of the drum, struck in a pattern that is only
known by students of his fighting teacher.
Source: Earphone Guide website