KABUKI ABC (38) / ‘Kanadehon Chushingura’: National Theatre to stage all 11 acts of celebrated piece

By Junichiro Shiozaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer“Kanadehon Chushingura” (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) is a celebrated kabuki piece based on the famous historical incident in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867) involving 47 samurai warriors and their mission to avenge their deceased master’s honor.

The National Theatre in Tokyo has started a three-month run to stage all 11 acts of the grand piece. This month, the first through fourth acts are being staged until Oct. 27, with Matsumoto Koshiro performing the role of Oboshi Yuranosuke, the key character of this piece. Koshiro has been acclaimed as the best actor today to perform the challenging role.

The theater is holding the three-month event to mark its 50th anniversary. As the piece is rarely staged in its entirety, the event will be a good opportunity for a foreign audience to get to know the story that is so familiar to the Japanese.

The highlight of this month’s show is the fourth act, which depicts the samurai lord Enya Hangan (played by Nakamura Baigyoku) committing his seppuku ritual suicide after briefly meeting his chief retainer Yuranosuke (Koshiro) who rushes from their faraway domain. After the lord’s tragic death, Yuranosuke discusses the authorities’ order to evict them from the lord’s mansion and other matters with other subordinates of the lord. It is followed by an intensely emotional scene depicting their eviction from the mansion.

Koshiro has performed the role of Yu-ranosuke countless times.

“I’ve developed as an actor while facing various challenges,” Koshiro said. “All these things should be able to add to my performance this time.”

Any kabuki actor of male roles avidly wants to perform the heroic Yuranosuke, who leads the group of loyal warriors striving to avenge their lord. In reality, only a few actors are qualified to play the role as it requires the performer to be of an outstanding caliber that goes beyond performing skills and techniques.

Koshiro is aware he should exercise a grand stage presence to convince the audience that he is the right actor for the role, in addition to his regular duty of devoting himself to performing well and improving his acting skills. He said he was delighted from the bottom of his heart that his long-standing efforts were rewarded when he was cast in the lead role of the commemorative show.

Before the show started, Koshiro and Baigyoku visited the city of Ako, Hyogo Prefecture — one of the locations associated with the historical incident — to pray at the Ako Oishi Shrine for the show’s success. The shrine was built in the early 20th century to enshrine the loyal warriors. Hearing that most of its construction costs were covered by donations from the people in the late Meiji and Taisho eras, Koshiro said, “I was moved by the citizens’ strong attachment to the loyal warriors.”

Koshiro also revealed his concern over whether young people today can understand “Chushingura” as their ancestors did, particularly the motive for the warriors’ action.

“I feel strong responsibilities for convincingly performing to let the audience share in the feelings of the warriors,” he said.

Koshiro intends to perform in a way that allows the audience to not only empathize with the feelings of the warriors, but also enables them to recognize that these feelings still remain and are active in Japanese people’s minds, although it is very challenging for actors today.

The November show will feature such great actors as Onoe Kikugoro and Nakamura Kichiemon. Koshiro and Baigyoku will play important roles again in the December acts.

Watching Enya Hangan commit his seppuku ritual suicide in the October show is a good opportunity to learn how the rituals were exercised during the Edo period.

Call (0570) 07-9900 for ticket information.

— Shiozaki is a specialist in kabuki.

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