Let’s talk Kabuki.

Kyonosuke as Kagamijishi

The last Episode of Pin to Kona aired a couple of weeks ago, and to be quite honest it wasn’t great but it wasn’t awful either(like Summer Nude). There were a lot of good and bad things about Pin to Kona but I don’t really want to get into the bad ones today – so let’s just talk about one good thing I got from following the drama: an interest in Kabuki. Now I’m pretty sure that most people watched the drama for the Kabuki, or at least partly because of it. I’m part of the former group and the Kabuki scenes and information about the Kabuki world really kept me watching it all the way through. Since the start of the drama I’ve slowly, but surely, developed a love for the ancient theatre art…

I’d watch the scenes in the drama then go and search them on the internet and watch the actual plays, even sometimes all of the way through. To be honest I only understand around 40% of the dialogue(maybe even less depending on the play) and even Japanese people I have talked to have told me they find it very difficult to understand – if you search the name of any Kabuki play in Japanese Google and add 解説 you’ll also see that there are a lot of webpages dedicated to just explaining Kabuki plays to people in simple, easy to understand ways. Anyway today I’ll going to talk about 3 of the plays from the drama that I researched and really enjoyed watching.

Sannin Kichisa

The first Kabuki play I really fell in love with from the series is Sannin Kichisa(The Three Kichisas’) which is a play about a thief who cross-dresses called Ojyou-Kichisa, another well-known theif Obou-Kichisa and Oshou-Kichisa, another thief who brings the three of them together. The play starts off with Ojyou-Kichisa deceiving a woman into helping him with directions and then revealing that he is a thief and stealing money from her. He then pushes her off a bridge into a river(I’m guessing?). You’ll remember this from Episode 6 of Pin to Kona, where Ichiya almost doesn’t make it in time to play his part after being sprung by Shohei’s trap. After the thieving, Ojyou has a monologue and reflects on how it’s the new year, good fortune and various other things(that I still don’t completely understand). This monologue is very powerful. When I first saw it on Pin to Kona I had no idea what he was talking about but somehow felt moved at the same time? Anyway this is apparently a very famous Kabuki line. You can see it from 5:40 to 7:20 of the video embedded below. After the monologue Obou appears and stops Ojyou from leaving. He asks her to give him the money that she has and she refuses so they end up fighting. Oshou appears mid-way through the fight and stops them, and then convinces them that they should all become brothers because they mysteriously have the same name(‘Kichisa’).

Kanadehonchushingura

So the scene in Episode 6 moved me and I decided to go back through older episodes and search up their Kabuki scenes. The next one I really enjoyed watching was the Kabuki play from Episode 1: Kanadehonchushingura, which is about a Samurai Kanpei and his mistress Okaru. The two of them are travelling somewhere together and apparently Kanpei has been spending a lot of time running from things that he inevitably has to face. Kyonosuke likens this to himself in the drama, with the way that he ran away from his title as Onzoushi and was just dogging Kabuki in general up until the second half of Episode 1 where he gets serious. Kanpei tries to kill himself, but Okaru stops him and convinces him to keep living. There’s a dance scene with Okaru and then a gang of guys come to take her back to wherever Kanpei took her from(like I said I don’t understand these plays that well, sorry but I can only give you bare basics). They ask Kanpei to hand her over, and he says no and they have a scrap. It ends with Kanpei giving like 10 guys a beating and chasing them away. He goes to kill their leader but Okaru convinces him not too(so nice, huh?). You can view the fight in the video below. Even though the way they express the fighting is very different from how it would be expressed in the Western world I still found Kanpei’s triumph extremely moving. It was also such a fitting play for the battle going on inside Kyonosuke during him acting it out. And in the drama he ends the fight with a “That’s Right! I’m Kyonosuke Kawamura” kind of monologue going on in his head. Anyway, both versions are moving.

Kagamijishi

I have absolutely no clue what the deal is with Kagamijishi. I haven’t watched the whole thing but it seems like it’s mostly a dancing play with not a lot of (or any?) dialogue. Kyonosuke does Kagamijishi in the first episode, when he has absolutely no enthusiasm for Kabuki at all, and also in the last episode – where he performs in front of his father and receives massive praise for the first time from him. The dancing in this play is really beautiful and the scenes in Pin to Kona do an okay job of capturing it, but they’re shortened so you don’t see the whole thing – you should definitely watch the whole 15 minute section of dancing, I’m glad I did. You can view it below if you have the time(there’s a lot of build up, but trust me it’s worth it).

Has anyone else been bitten by the Kabuki bug since watching this drama? It’s made me really want to go and see Kabuki live next time I go to Japan. I want to see it play out right in front of me because it seems like such a fun experience. Even the shouting of the actor’s franchises/households or whatever seems like a lot of fun, I’m not sure what you call it in English but it’s called かけ声 in Japanese and apparently Kabuki is the only form of art that has this(according to an article I read on the internet so don’t hold me to this). If you have anything to say or any Kabuki plays to recommend go ahead and write them down below! I’d love to know more about Kabuki.

2 thoughts on “Let’s talk Kabuki.

  1. Hey, great post. You inspired me to look up Kagami-Jishi (good explanation at http://www.kabuki21.com/kagami_jishi.php). I had wondered why it bookended the series. I guess it’s because the Kabuki character starts dancing without passion, like Kawamura at the start, then gets so into it that the Lion spirit strengthens his dancing, so it’s a visual metaphor for Kawamura’s mucking around then getting serious. I started chasing links and found “kakegoe” which is calling out the house name/guild (“yago”) when the actor reaches a climactic pose. Fascinating. Makes me want to visit my school friend who lives in Japan just so I can see Kabuki. And visit Studio Ghibli…

  2. I need to bookmark this and read again later. I’m in a hurry now.
    anyway, about Kagami jishi, a month a go, I saw other version on youtube with 2 persons playing it. 1 with the long white hair and 1 with the long red hair. You guys remember the picture on the wall that Kyonosuki ‘s father often looked at? That was the picture with 2 persons playing this play, one white hair and the other red hair. It was really interesting, and for that reason, I expected episode 10 , they would let Kyonosuki play the White hair lion and Ichiya would play the red hair lion. That would be fun because that’s their destiny to play together and complete each other.
    Oh well, I didn’t get what I wanted for episode 10, but I was still feel good with the final episode since the father got what he expected for his son to carry on Kabuki traditions.

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