|Namiki Gohei III (lyrics)
Kineya Rokur˘ IV (music)
Nishikawa Senz˘ (choreography)
The dance-drama "Kanjinch˘" was performed for the first time in the 3rd lunar month of 1840 at the Kawarasakiza. The 3 leading roles of Benkei, Togashi and Yoshitsune were played by Ichikawa Ebiz˘ V, Ichikawa Kuz˘ II and Ichikawa Danjűr˘ VIII.
Togachi Saemon, an intelligent, well-educated aristocrat, appears accompanied by his men and explains that he is the guardian of the barrier and enjoins his men to be vigilant in their attempt to intercept Minamoto Yoshitsune and his party, who are believed to be fleeing north disguised as wandering priests.
While the musicians are singing a song, Yoshitsune enters, followed by four retainers. He is dressed as a porter with a wide straw hat and carries a load on his back. When the party arrives at the barrier, Benkei, an ex-priest, announces to the guards that they are priests wishing to pass the barrier. He goes on to say that they have been sent to collect funds for the restoration of T˘daiji Temple at Nara, and are touring the northern districts. But Togashi and his soldiers reply that the party may not pass unless they can prove themselves to be genuine priests. Togashi asks Benkei, since they claim to be collecting funds, if he has a kanjinch˘ or list of contributors. Benkei is rather taken aback by this request. And Benkei's momentary confusion confirms Togashi's suspicions. Benkei, of course, has no kanjinch˘. But he goes to the back of the stage and returns with a blank scroll, which he unwinds and begins reading aloud. Togashi deliberately advances towards him. When he suddenly starts forward and glances at the scroll, Benkei realizes that Togashi has seen that there is nothing written on it. Although Togashi says nothing, he knows for certain now that the scroll is a fake. Nevertheless he appreciates Benkei's courageous ingenuity and is prepared to let him go on with the deception. Togashi asks Benkei about the costume and equipment of a priest and the meaning of some difficult Buddhist terms. Benkei answers all these questions correctly.
Togashi is very impressed by Benkei's display of knowledge, and says there is no longer any suspicion. He thanks Benkei for having given him the chance to come into contact with Buddhism and asks to make his own offering to the fund. Just as Benkei's party is about to go through the barrier, however, one of Togashi's soldiers calls his attention to the porter in the rear, saying the porter resembles Yoshitsune. Togashi can't ignore this. Benkei tries to prove that the porter is not Yoshitsune, but in vain. Benkei then pretends to be angry and beats Yoshitsune bitterly, declaring that if he is suspect, Togashi is welcome to detain him. Togashi is sure that the porter is Yoshitsune, yet as he watches Benkei beat his master, he realizes deeply what a predicament it must be for his loyalty. When Benkei offers to beat him to death, if necessary, Togashi begs him to restrain himself.
The crisis over, Benkei's party goes on with their journey. Once out of sight, Yoshitsune thanks Benkei for saving his life and the retainers extol Benkei's courage and resourcefulness. Benkei, however, apologizes for beating his master. He says he would rather die than beat his master, on whom he sets a higher value than his own life. Finally, for the first time in his life, Benkei bursts into tears.
This summary has been written by Watanabe Hisao and edited by Jeff Blair [website]
"Kanjinch˘", which is derived from the classical N˘ drama "Ataka", is the most popular play of the current Kabuki repertoire. It belongs to the Kabuki Jűhachiban collection and to the guilds Naritaya and K˘raiya. The two best performers of the great role of Benkei are Matsumoto K˘shir˘ and Ichikawa Danjűr˘.
"The role of Benkei is one of the most famed in the Kabuki repertory. It demands a big voice and presence, skill as a dancer, and an ability to invest a typical anti-heros with nobility and earthiness" (from an article written by Jennifer Dunning for the New York Times in July 1982, referring to the Summer 1982 Kabuki tour in the US with Nakamura Tomijűr˘ in the role of Benkei)
|The actors Ichikawa Danjűr˘ IX and Ichikawa Sadanji I playing the roles of Benkei and Togashi in the dance-drama "Kanjinch˘", performed in October 1875 at the Nakamuraza (print made by Toyohara Kunichika)
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