|Play title||Ashiya Dôman Ôuchi Kagami|
|Author||Takeda Izumo I|
The play "Ashiya Dôman Ôuchi Kagami" was originally written for the puppet theater (Bunraku) and staged for the first time in the 10th lunar month of 1734 in Ôsaka at the Takemotoza. It was adapted for Kabuki the following year and staged for the first time in the 5th lunar month of 1735 in Kyôto at Miyako Mandayû's theater [casting]. The story of Kuzu-no-Ha was based on a famous sekkyô-bushi.
"Kuzu-no-Ha" is the fourth act of "Ashiya Dôman Ôuchi Kagami".
Scene 1: the Cottage of Yasuna in Abeno
When the curtain is drawn, Abe no Yasuna's wife Kuzu-no-Ha is sitting at her loom weaving. Her young son named Dôji is sleeping in his bed. The family happily lives in a humble cottage in Abeno. This Kuzu-no-Ha is not a human being but a white female fox coming from the forest of Shinoda. Foxes in Japan have great magical powers and can assume the shape of human at will. Shinoda no Shôji, his wife Shigarami, and their daughter, who is none other than real Kuzu-no-Ha, arrive at the cottage. The real Kuzu-no-Ha is the fiancée of Yasuna. Shôji and his family know absolutely nothing about the other Kuzu-no-Ha. They have brought their daughter to become Yasuna's bride as it was agreed a long time ago. They have not heard anything of Yasuna for 6 long years. They prefer to hide in a shed while Shôji spies out the situation first. He stealthily approaches the cottage and takes a glance inside. He is extremely surprised at seeing his daughter Kuzu-no-Ha weaving at the loom. He rushes back to the shed where he finds both Kuzu-no-Ha and her mother. He tells them the reason of his look of astonishment. The story is a shock for the two women, who too go to peek into the house. They can confirm that, although it is unbelievable, there is another Kuzu-no-Ha inside. The real Kuzu-no-Ha feels unsettled. They all agree that this can only be the doing of some supernatural power.
At this point Yasuna returns home with a toy for Dôji. He is surprised to meet his parents-in-laws, whom he immediately recognizes, as well as Kuzu-no-Ha herself, whom he takes to be his usual wife. He rebukes his wife for dressing herself up in such a poor manner, which does not show any respect to her parents. Then, Yasuna explains to Shôji and Shigarami how Kuzu-no-Ha had saved him from death, that they got married and that she gave birth to a boy five year ago. He apologizes for not having tried to get in touch with them for so many years, and then asks Kuzu-no-Ha to bring out Shôji to meet his grandparents. The real Kuzu-no-Ha is of course at a loss because of the strangeness of this incredible situation.
Shôji cleverly calls Yasuna's attention to the sound of the loom inside the cottage and, at his turn, Yasuna begins to think that the situation is a little bit strange. He enters the house to check it while the others quickly hide in the shed. The fox Kuzu-no-Ha greets him as usual. He tells her that he have met her parents and they have agreed to pay them a visit this evening. The fox Kuzu-no-Ha shows no sign of her perturbation. Yasuna watches her carefully but does not find anything strange. This Kuzu-no-Ha is definitively his real wife but who is the other one in the shed?
Scene 2: the Inner Room of the Cottage
Kuzu-no-Ha is worried about the coming meeting. She is aware that her identity will be challenged and that she will have to confess everything. There is only one solution for her: she has to leave the house, parting from her beloved Yasuna and Dôji and letting the real Kuzu-no-Ha replace her as a wife and a mother. She does not have the courage to face Yasuna himself and tell him the truth. She prefers to tell the story to the sleeping boy. The boy hears it in a dream and is instructed to tell this dream to his father once he wakes up.
After saying this tearful farewell to her sleeping son, she writes a parting poem on the paper screens, which means "If you would search for me, go to the forest of Shinoda". Her hands gradually change back to animal paws and the final lines of the poem are written with the brush held in her mouth. The boy suddenly wakes up and starts to cry. Kuzu-no-Ha tells him to think of the new Kuzu-no-Ha as his own and Shôji and Shigarami as his grandparents. Then she bursts out weeping. Yasuna appears on stage, saying he has heard everything and that, in spite of her non-human identity, she is still his beloved wife. Kuzu-no-Ha, however, lays down Dôji and disappears like magic, making for the forest. Yasuna reads the farewell poem on the shôji. He takes the boy in his arms and quickly heads off toward the forest of Shinoda, hoping to find again the fox Kuzu-no-Ha.
Scene 3: the Travel Dance in the Forest of Shinoda
This short and visually-striking scene usually ends the performance of "Kuzu-no-Ha". The fox Kuzu-no-Ha appears on the hanamichi, wearing a beautiful woman travelling costum and a mask of fox. She is deeply grief-stricken because of the separation and comes stumbling blindly through the forest of Shinoda. She is met by a bunch of yakko, who are on the payroll of the villain Ishikawa Akuemon. There is a short tachimawari. In some productions, the fox Kuzu-no-Ha escapes from them with a chûnori over the stage while the yakko do their final pose.
"Customarily, the same actor, using quick changes, plays both Kuzu-no-Ha roles, which are an important test of the onnagata's ability. One of the most memorable moments occurs when the fox Kuzu-no-Ha writes the poem, done with brushes held in the mouth, both hands and the left hand alone, a keren trick suggesting the character's magical animal-nature. Not only must the writing be done in these unusual ways, but the calligraphy must be first-rate." (Samuel Leiter in "New Kabuki Encyclopedia")
The actors Kawarasaki Gonjûrô I and Nakamura Shikan IV playing the roles of Abe no Yasuna and Kuzu-no-Ha in the drama "Na o Tsuide Shinoda no Yomeiri", which was staged in the 9th lunar month of 1861 at the Ichimuraza (print made by Utagawa Toyokuni III)
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