Okamoto Kidō On The Kabuki Theatre Of The Meiji Period – Part One
First in a four-part series by kabuki collector Trevor Skingle!
Published as a series in 1935 and then in full as “Meiji Gekidan Ranpu no Moto ni te” (On the Theatre of the Meiji Period – Under the Lamp) by Iwanami Shoten in 1993. These extracts are from the serialisation which appeared in the late 1920s early 1930s in the Tokyo Kabukiza Monthly Kabuki Review magazine as Sugi ni shi Monogatari
Series Number 10, Part 1 (Magazine No. 62 –15th February – 1st March 1930, Pages 58 – 62):
As my personal expenses were really only a hundredth of a yen when Mitamura Kumakichi’s Torikuma Shibai Theatre Troupe was performing at the Harukiza I would of course go to the theatre along with the rest of the audience to watch them so was lucky enough to mingle with and meet other fans.
The extensive repairs on the Shintomiza Theatre were completed at the beginning of November Meiji 18 (1885) in time for the opening celebrations on the 24th. Along with others I took delivery of my personal invitation at home though I attended together with my mother and some other relations, carrying winter rice and boiled rice with red beans packed in a small wooden food box which, as Torikuma Shibai started late, we put to one side. That day at the department store’s restaurant they were selling cheap reheated things like winter rice and boiled rice with red beans so we decided that early in the day we could probably do with something more substantial, naturally delicious and appetising,like cooked rice and vegetables packed and pressed into two individually stacked food boxes.
First it was Nakamura Sōjūrō, originally from Ōsaka, ready for his part of the programme, his forte, ‘Yūshoku Kamakurayama’, and for the middle act I think it was Danjūrō’s ‘Shiragazome no Sanemori’ and correctly ‘Funa Benkei’, then, as I first thought, Sadanji’s Miura Arajirō in ‘Yūshoku Kamakurayama’ attracted my attention. Sōjūrō’s speech as Sano Senzaemon was special, stylised as it always was, in the scene at Kenchōji Temple, ‘Silence, silence. S.. s… s… silence!’ And at that point he then shouted in an all the more intensely pleasurable rolling and thrillingly thunderous voice, enjoyable for me because since that time it was a script that was often revised by Sadanji II, secondly it conformed to a set formula in a similar, traditionalist, rhythmic compositional style of acting. In fact it’s true that the rhythm of the script was enriched under the reformist influence of the previous generation Sadanji and wasn’t something to be undervalued and considered negatively. Appearing for the first time ever was Atsumi Goro in ‘Akamatsu Manyu’. Miura Arajirō, coming from the tsuyoiarai (strong rough: modern – aragato) acting style, left a profound and deeply engraved impression on my tiny and crowded intellect, I know… I know… I couldn’t help myself thinking hard in public whilst absorbing myself in literary style guides.
The plot of Sanemori’s Katsureki Kabuki based on historical events was rightly interesting and effortlessly successful, and the development of Funa Benkei (Benkei on the Boat) an interesting success. Danjūrō’s talent in Funa Benkei as the ghost of Tomomori, and his appearance and the Nō costume’s form! And the long sword he carried thrillingly from the agemaku (a temporary pale blue drop curtain) onto the hanamichi (a walkway extending from the stage through the audience). In faltering movements he began the standing dance, turning back again and again, breathtakingly swiftly, toward the agemaku. At that time I think I was, rightly, too dammed moved to tears by that sad miserable threatening spirit, as well as Danjūrō’s skill and performance. Well! Until then I’d greatly and compulsively not bothered to allow myself to resolve many a self-centred dislike to some of the great star’s I’d seen before. In particular at that time those most abundant, undemonstrative, plays by Torikuma, especially when I compared them to that which I would rather have seen and which might have possibly moved my spirit if for no other reason than because of the stirring, superb skill and forceful speech of Danjūrō. At any rate at every theatre, without digressing from the facts and uncaring of repudiation, I succumbed to this Tomomori. I recall from my youth that at around the time when I was about fourteen years old, ‘Funa Benkei’ was being repeatedly performed.
To a certain extent I had developed a great admiration for Danjūrō’s Tomomori, who amongst other things, as a youth I had great admiration for. I considered the role well done, though on the face of things, and despite appearing admiring this was not to be relied on because afterwards I was unfair and flippant towards the piece though at the time being in fact overcome and theatrically weeping many times realising just how overwhelming popular with the audience it was. A classical maxim for every theatre at the time was that the popularity with the audience always seemed to be disappointingly varied. Following the theatrical speech of Tomomori, Torikuma’s low class Kabuki Theatre plays were in a different class altogether and couldn’t be compared, I also went to the so called Grand Theatre which usually drew in a full house for a first time show and accordingly was usually packed to capacity. In May of the following year, Meiji 19 (1886) at the Shintomiza Theatre the time was deemed right for the performance of the popular play about Watanabe Kazan and Takano Chōei called ‘Yume Monogatari Rosei Yōhiru’.
It so happens that I’ve made a decision to, for a while at least, make do with some trivial discussions on questions about things not known about the theatre and though it wasn’t due to anything in particular it rarely got sold out,. Such subjects range from the theatre’s dirt floor galleries (masu), to the example of the distribution of false publicity, and the degree to which it was journalistic spin, which is the same as the dry river bed (kawara) of Tamagawa River. It’s in general situations that water current will flow in a single section of a dry river bed in no more than one stream.
* kawara mono (riverbed people) and kawara kojiki (riverbed beggars) are unflattering terms for actors and Kido seems to be using a pun, or sharé, to put down and to comment on the duplicitous nature of theatre publicity and publicists of the time, today we know them as spin doctors. What Kido also seems to be saying through this idiomatic passage of text is that while a few theatre publicists may have gone too far most publicity could be seen as genuine. As further reading of this memoir reveals in his acerbic retrospective recollections of ‘Yumenogatari Rosei Yōhiru’ and dismissal of Torikuma Shibai Kido may be thinking about, and referring to, their publicists in particular. In light of this it becomes more obvious why ‘Yume Monogatari’ or ‘Tale of a Dream’ has been specifically referred to in the memoir’s title and Torikuma Shibai only has a passing nod at the beginning of the article
I haven’t written much for these last three years. So before I end up bathing needlessly in five years of dry river bed illiteracy and as a primary precautionary measure I’m confident in leaving behind my outstanding notes and confidential papers. It’s been agreed that most urgently and for the sake of precaution I need to co-operate my schedule with the theatre because it has been my intention to consider the descendants of the stage. How awfully many years have passed? I need in this instance to investigate the extent of my obsessively composed notes and confidential papers. I’ve deduced that the plays of Torikuma truthfully four times undermined (Japanese proverb) expectations a little at every theatre entertainment event that was performed and the entertainment provided by its special techniques director for fight scenes (tokushu) continued to be pompous. As is generally usual for plays I haven’t been able to help but express my opinion. Nevertheless on the water’s surface of the Tamagawa’s dry river bed time and again delightful awkward contractions can inevitably be seen. At your house heavy floods await under pressure*.
* Kido seems to be inferring with metaphors (the longer the kawara, dry river bed, of Torikuma, runs the more ‘contractions’ occur, and, ‘his’ house being flooded under pressure) that, in his opinion, the demise of Torikuma was inevitable
At the Shintomiza however there was a prosperous full house with people enthusiastically filled the dirt floor boxes, the raised boxes (takadoma) and galleries (saijiki) as well. Truthfully, because of astonishing quality of the tuna, my concentration was distracted. The middle act, on its first commission, was to be ‘Suikoden Yuki Danmari’ (Tales of the Water Margin: A Pantomime in the Snow), it was Danjūrō’s Kyūmonryū (Nine Dragon) Shishin and Sadanji’s flower-priest Rochishin fight (tachimawari) in the snow which was rightly and broadly unanimously popular. I became familiar with and knowledgeable about the pantomime in the dark (danmari). In the middle of the snow the usually formal pantomime in the dark was unusually and impossibly nimble. Then there was the sung narrative with shamisen accompaniment (jōruri) ‘Setsugekka’ (Snow, moon and flowers), and then the popular Danjūrō’s ‘Sagimusume’ (The Heron Maiden) and his ‘Yasuna’ took place. However amongst all of this tremendous popularity there was an imminent failure, primarily ‘Yume Monogatari’. Ah! But then, though the play’s popularity is an absolutely excellent thing it assuredly now appears that on this occasion there was far too much attention-grabbing kyōgen. Though it seems to have been true that Danjūrō’s Kazan, was a portrayal of substance, it was said that Sadanji’s Chōei and Torimono surrender scene was a tearfully dreary study in tedium. In addition to which they behaved like weeping willows fluttering in the wind. I arrived at a decision in my mind about making public my views about the bombastic (aragoto) scene section; at the very least the audience may have inadvertently questioned the behaviour presented in the play, not least to repudiate its reputation. If I also recall correctly those of us from Shintomi-cho afterwards travelled together as a group. Oh and we overdid it, visiting the theatre day after day. Indeed to say, and accurately, nothing of the number of Sundays which I spent visiting, pausing (pant) for (pant) breath (pant) and returning stumbling, confused, and looking sadly choked, yah!
Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.