KABUKI ABC (69) / Dojoji: Tamasaburo, 4 other actors take turns performing main role in ‘cinema kabuki’

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe “cinema kabuki” genre — movies featuring scenes from actual kabuki stage plays — has been given new luster with the nationwide release on Jan. 13 of the dance drama “Kyo Kanoko Musume Gonin Dojoji.”

The main role in the drama is usually performed by a single onnagata — a male kabuki actor who plays mainly female roles — but in the movie, five onnagata actors — including Bando Tamasaburo, a living national treasure — take turns performing scenes from the play.

The movie also contains interviews with the actors, behind-the-scenes featurettes and other documentary-style content.

Above all, it offers audience members a deeper look into the world of “Dojoji Mono,” or artistic works featuring the Buddhist temple of Dojoji, which still stands in Wakayama Prefecture.

The Dojoji Mono category encompasses not only kabuki plays but other traditional performing arts as well, including noh plays such as “Dojoji” and bunraku puppet dramas such as “Hidakagawa Iriai Zakura.” The works are based on the legend of Anchin and Kiyohime, in which Dojoji temple appears.

In the legend, set in the Heian period, a handsome priest named Anchin, during a pilgrimage to the Kumano region, asks to stay overnight at a house where a young woman named Kiyohime lives. The woman falls for him. Anchin tells Kiyohime that he will visit her house again on his way home. But Anchin dishonors the promise and fails to visit her. Kiyohime bursts into anger upon realizing Anchin has betrayed her, and begins to pursue him.

During the chase, Kiyohime’s extreme anger causes her to transform into a huge snake. Anchin flees from her and hides inside a hanging bell at Dojoji temple, but Kiyohime tracks him down and roasts him to death inside the bell.

The brilliantly showy kabuki dance drama “Kyo Kanoko Musume Dojoji,” meanwhile, picks up some time after this dramatic final encounter between Anchin and Kiyohime.

In the play, a woman who identifies herself as a shirabyoshi female entertainer named Hanako visits Dojoji temple when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

While performing a bewitching dance before the temple’s priests, she undergoes a remarkable transformation and her body turns into a huge snake, which then clings to the temple’s hanging bell. The woman who called herself Hanako is revealed to be an incarnation of the same Kiyohime who burned Anchin to death.

The drama is one of the most popular among kabuki dance dramas performed by onnagata actors. It contains several must-see scenes, including those in which performers bounce a mari ball; dance while holding props such as a hanagasa flower hat, a small kakko drum and a tenugui towel; and change clothes in the blink of an eye.

The cinema kabuki film contains scenes from performances at the Kabukiza theater in December 2016.

In addition to Bando Tamasaburo, the film features actors in their 20s and 30s including Nakamura Kankuro, who plays both tachiyaku male characters and onnagata roles; Nakamura Shichinosuke, the younger brother of Kankuro and a popular onnagata actor; and young onnagata actors Nakamura Baishi and Nakamura Kotaro.

Tamasaburo, who reigns atop the world of onnagata actors, said, “By standing on the same stage as my junior colleagues, I can teach them things that cannot be explained in words.”

Tamasaburo, who has experience as a film director, also took charge of editing the movie. He said that he included interviews with the actors because “spectators [at a live venue] can distinguish between actors they see on stage, but people watching the movie will find it difficult to tell the actors apart, because they all wear the same clothing.”

The interviews, in which the actors speak about their enthusiasm for performing, are intercut with scenes of each of them dancing onstage. The technique has the effect of making each dance scene easier to understand and enjoy.

The movie is being screened at theaters nationwide, including at Togeki, a movie theater in Tokyo’s Higashiginza district. It is being screened together with another film featuring the kabuki dance drama called “Ninin Wankyu,” which also features Tamasaburo and Kankuro.

— Morishige covers traditional Japanese performing arts

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