Play title Urűzuki Ninin Kagekiyo  In Japanese
Common title Kan U  In Japanese
Authors Fujimoto Tobun, Tsuuchi Han'emon

"Kan U" was premiered in the 11th lunar month of 1737 at the Kawarasakiza at the end of the kaomise drama "Urűzuki Ninin Kagekiyo". The final act of this play was a spectacular confrontation scene between Ichikawa Ebiz˘ II and Ichikawa Danz˘ I in the roles of the statue of Kan U and the statue of Ch˘ Hi (Kan U and Ch˘ Hi were two legendary Chinese generals). It went to oblivion and the original script was lost but it was nevertheless added to the Kabuki Jűhachiban collection of drama in 1840 by Ichikawa Ebiz˘ V.

In modern times, it was revived 3 times:

Date Theater Details
1929/11 Kabukiza (T˘ky˘) Casting
1942/11 Kabukiza (T˘ky˘) Casting
1985/01 National Theatre (T˘ky˘) Casting

A newly-created drama, which was entitled "Kotohoide Mimasu Kagekiyo", was staged in January 2014 at the Shinbashi Enbuj˘ and starred Ichikawa Ebiz˘ XI in the role of the warrior Akushichiby˘e Kagekiyo. This drama was created by mixing scenes and elements coming from 4 kagekiyomono belonging to the Kabuki Jűhachiban: "Kan U", "Kagekiyo" "Kamahige" and "Gedatsu" [more details]. This drama was also staged in September 2014 at the Minamiza.

Key words Akushichiby˘e Kagekiyo
Ch˘ Hi
Ch˘ Ry˘
Dan-no-Ura no Tatakai
Genpei Kassen
Hatakeyama Shigetada
Kabuki Jűhachiban
Kan Pei
Kan U
Kan u no Mie
Kuragari T˘ge
Minamoto Yoritomo
ď Bijin
Ryű Bi
Shű S˘
Taira Kagekiyo
Taira Kiyomori
Yashima no Tatakai

Act I, scene 1: Hatakeyama Shigetaka Yashiki
At Hatakeyama Shigetaka's Mansion

The Heike have been defeated. The Genji are now in power. Rokudai-gimi , the little Heike prince, has been captured in battle. We are at the Mansion of the great Genji general Hatakeyama Shigetada. Okushiba, the wife of Shigetada, was born into a Heike family. Okushiba, herself, appears and wonders what has happened to her husband who has been summoned to appear before Minamoto no Yoritomo, the leader of the Genji clan. She laments her difficult position in relation to the two rival clans. She recalls with sorrow the defeat of the Heike at the Battle of Yashima and expresses her anxiety about the fate of the little prince and also for the Heike warrior Akushichiby˘e Kagekiyo, her elder brother.

Shigetada returns at his mansion. He announces that he has been ordered to behead Rokudai-gimi. He orders his wife to carry out this order to demonstrate where her loyalty lies. Okushiba orders the boy to be called and she explains to him the situation. Her position is very difficult. If she kills him, she will betray the Heike. If she does not kill him, she will betray the Genji. She has no other choice than to commit suicide. Rokudai-gimi, however, declares that he is ready to die if she will die with him. She commends his resolute attitude and prepares to kill him but she hesitates. The boy insists. She is about to strike when she is stopped by Shigetada. He praises his wife for her loyalty and tells her to spare the boy.

Akoya, the wife of Kagekiyo, appears disguised as a shiraby˘shi dancer named Manju. Like Okushiba, she wonders where Kagekiyo is. She has been desperately searching for him for days. Tired from her hopeless wanderings, she asks for shelter at the mansion of Shigetada. He recognises her as the courtesan Akoya, whom he once knew in Ky˘to. He pretends to flirt with her but they are interrupted by the jealous Okushiba. Shigetada whispers to his wife that it is only a stratagem to discover the real identity of Manju. He asks the two women to perform a dance describing the Battle of Dan-no-Ura in which the Heike were defeated. As they do this, Okushiba realises that Manju is, in fact, her brother's wife Akoya and, therefore, she is no more a potential love rival.

When they have withdrawn, Kagekiyo, disguised as a shűgy˘sha arrives and asks for a night's lodging. Okushiba accepts to let him in. They recognize each other and are amazed to have the chance to meet again. Kagekiyo is less pleased, however, when he hears that Okushiba has married with an enemy belonging to the Genji clan. She explains that she did it to be near Rokudai-gimi who is now in Shigetada's custody. Hearing that his master is inside the mansion, Kagekiyo's first impulse is to rush in and rescue him but Okushiba warns her brother that the house is full of soldiers. She tells him to meet her that night at the shrine on the Kuragari Pass. She will secretly bring the boy to him. Kagekiyo is about to leave when Shigetada, who has recognised him but says nothing, offers him to spend the night in his mansion. They talk and their conversation becomes more animated when they start to discuss the rivalries between the Genji and the Heike. Shigetada would like to get the confession of this shűgy˘sha about his real identity. He offers Kagekiyo sake to drink. The sake will be served out of the skull of Taira no Kiyomori, the former leader of the Heike clan. Kagekiyo controls himself and accepts the sake.

Left alone, Kagekiyo vents his anger and is tempted to quickly kill Shigetada but he is interrupted by Manju, in reality his wife Akoya whom he has not seen for a long time. She explains to him the recent events and she advises him to act rationally. In order not to be overheard, she writes more detailed instructions as to where to meet Rokudai-gimi that night.

When they have withdrawn, Okushiba leads Rokudai-gimi away from the house. The boy has been disguised as Hitomaru, the daughter of Kagekiyo and Akoya. As Kagekiyo is about to leave, he is stopped by Shigetada. Kagekiyo is surprised and Shigetada explains that, though he a Genji warrior, he was married to Kagekiyo's sister. In a sense, therefore, he considers himself as a kind of second Kagekiyo.

Act I, scene 2: Hatakeyama Shigetaka Yashiki Okuniwa
In the Inner Garden at Hatakeyama Shigetaka's Mansion

The Genji warrior Mionoya Shir˘ has come at Shigetada's mansion to arrest him as he is considered as a traitor to the Genji cause. He is stopped by Hanzawa Rokur˘, one of Shigetada's retainers, and a fight ensues. Shigetada appears on stage and stops them.

Iwanaga Saemon, an envoy from Minamoto no Yoritomo, makes his appearance and berates Shigetada for not having killed Rokudai-gimi as expected. Shigetada replies that there is no shame to show mercy to such a young enemy but Iwanaga insists and demands again the head of Rokudai-gimi. Shigetada removes his outer clothing to reveal monks robes beneath. To the amazement of all, he says that he intends to renounce any worldly ambition and he plans to spend the rest of his life as a shűgy˘sha. In this way he can honourably sever all ties with either the Genji or the Heike. Then, he sets off on his journey.

Act II, scene 1: Yamato no Kuni Kuragari T˘ge Sanchű Tsujid˘
At the Roadside Shrine on the Kuragari Pass in the Province of Yamato

A group of villagers are resting beside the shrine near the Kuragari Pass. They have worked in the reconstruction of the Kanteiby˘, a mausoleum in the Chinese style which is dedicated to the divine incarnation of the legendary Chinese warrior Kan U. They are merrily celebrating, with sake and dances, the end of this project which helped a lot the village at a critical time as the rice crops have failed this year. They wonder who was responsible for ordering the construction of such a magnificent mausoleum.

When they have gone, Akoya appears. She is wounded but is assisted by a villager named Shigesaku. Akoya loudly regrets that she has lost Rokudai-gimi, for it was at this shrine that she had arranged to meet with Kagekiyo. Listening to Akoya, Shigesaku recognises all these names. He asks her who she is. Akoya tells him and he reveals that he is in reality not a simple villager but the warrior Tsutsumi Gunji. He used to be a retainer of the Genji warrior, Kumagai Jir˘ Naozane. Kumagai has retired from the samurai world to become a priest, calling himself Kumagai Rensh˘b˘. He has been involved in the building of the mausoleum. Gunji has become a villager in order to assist his former master. He asks Akoya what brings her to the shrine. Akoya explains that she had disguised Rokudai-gimi as Hitomaru, hers and Kagekiyo's own daughter. She escorted the child into the mountains with Kagekiyo and Okushiba but they were assaulted by Genji soldiers. She was wounded, Okushiba was killed and the others disappeared without a trace. Akoya begs Gunji to help her in her search for the little prince. He agrees and both go off in search.

A palanquin (kago) is brought on by two kagokaki, Jirohachi and Rokuz˘. They discuss how Akoya escaped but at least they were able to catch the girl and confide her inside the palanquin. They wonder who the girl in the litter is. Gunji reappears and demands to see the child in the palanquin. There is a scuffle and Rokudai-gimi, disguised as Hitomaru, escapes, pursued by the two kagokaki. Shigetada and Kagekiyo suddenly appear. Shigetada thinks that the child is Rokudai-gimi while Kagekiyo thinks that it is Hitomaru. The moon is covered by a cloud and three more characters appear on stage: Akoya and Iwanaga, who come back on stage and there is also the entrance of the shűgy˘sha Kumagai. The five characters struggle in the darkness for the possession of two letters. This section of the scene is performed as a danmari. The scene ends with the exit of Shigetada along the hanamichi.

Act II, scene 2: Yamato no Kuni Kuragari T˘ge Sanchű Kanteiby˘ Koseki
At the Former Site of the Kanteiby˘ Mausoleum on the Kuragari Pass in the Province of Yamato

We are at the site of the former Kanteiby˘ . Kagekiyo appears with Rokudai-gimi (disguised as Hitomaru), not yet knowing his identity. They have just met by chance in the forest and rejoice at this unexpected reunion but they don't know who is who. The two kagokaki appear and order them to stop. The false Hitomaru is seized and Kagekiyo is captured by Genji soldiers. The two kagokaki reveal their true identities: Jirosaku is in reality Hanzawa Rokur˘ while Rokuz˘ is Yokose Shichir˘. Both are retainers of Hatakeyama no Shigetada.

Mionoya Shir˘ suddenly appears on stage and shoots an arrow at Kagekiyo. The arrow does not hit its target and Kagekiyo takes the opportunity of this incident to disappear. Amazed, Mionoya challenges Kagekiyo to appear again but there is no answer. The false Hitomaru is tied to a tree.

At that moment, a roaring voice is heard ordering them to wait. It is the powerful voice of the Chinese warrior Kan U. He has come to Japan to admonish the Genji warriors. Then Shigetada, transformed into the Chinese warrior Kan U, appears on the hanamichi, riding on a white horse. He has all the features of Kan U: his hair and great beard, his glittering eyes and his massive crescent-shaped sword (seiryűt˘). Stopping on the hanamichi, Kan U makes a speech explaining that the play which bears his name belongs to a group of plays known as the Kabuki Jűhachiban and that it was first performed by Ichikawa Ebiz˘ II. Although he was Shigetada earlier on, he is, in fact Kan U. He has come to Japan to punish the Genji warriors and to rescue Kagekiyo. He uses his magic powers to unbind the rope which attaches Hitomaru to the tree and the child disappears.

Kan U then rides onto the stage, announcing that he will now demonstrate his skill in aragoto. He draws his sword and decapitates with one stroke a group of Genji soldiers. He then declares that he will perform the famous Kan U no mie, Kan U's mie. This is a pose which he does to great effect. Iwanaga arrives on stage, bringing with him a message from Minamoto no Yoritomo. He reads the message which tells all that both Kagekiyo and Shigetada have been pardoned. Kan U mocks him. Since Kan U is no longer Shigetada, he now has nothing to do with Yoritomo. Kan U then asks Iwanaga if he knows where he is standing. The envoy replies that he has heard that it is the site of an ancient mausoleum once called Kanteiby˘. Kan U says that he will rebuild it before their very eyes. Iwanaga is incredulous and all pose as the curtain is closed.

Act II, scene 3: Kanteiby˘ Naijin
In the Heart of the Kanteiby˘ Mausoleum

The curtain opens to the sound of Chinese traditional music. There is a asagimaku hiding the mausoleum. The ďzatsuma musicians are on stage, singing the brilliance of the palace and the bravery of its glorious heroes. The asagimaku falls and the mausoleum is revealed in all its splendour. On stage, there are the Chinese warriors Kan U (Shigetada), Ryű Bi (Kumagai) and Ch˘ Hi (Kagekiyo). Formerly Genji and Heike enemies, they are now brothers after their transformation into Chinese warriors. They drink to celebrate this new fraternity. They also call for the famous and beautiful concubine ď Bijin (Akoya). With her is Rokudai-gimi who is now the Chinese imperial prince Kentei. There are also the three warriors Ch˘ Ry˘, Shű S˘ and Kan Pei (who is the son of Kan U). There is also Ch˘sen, one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. The heroes announce their intention of overthrowing the Genji clan to peace and prosperity in the empire of the rising sun.

The actor Ichikawa Ebiz˘ V playing the role of Kan U in the eponymous drama in a mitate-e print made in 1852 by Utagawa Toyokuni III

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