‘Kaidan Botan Doro’: On Marriage and Love

Date written: August 8, 2015
Date I saw play: July 22nd

Kaidan Botan Doro exceeded my expectations in every possible way; I laughed and cried, sometimes both at once. I had been wanting to see a ghost story play most of all, and the wait was well worth it!

In this story of betrayal, pride, and greed, a cunning couple agrees (with fear and trepidation) to the demands of a ghost maiden, Otsuyu, to take down the defenses around their samurai master Saburo in exchange for a sum of gold that will generously support them without his employment. Though the servants’ actions are villainous, they are actually the play’s protagonists. In this version, it seems that Omine and Tomozo are more moved primarily by the prospect of being cursed by the ghosts of Otsuyu and her governess rather than by the gold, which they requested first as both proof and insurance from the ghosts. This was far more believable than greed motivating their actions as I expected. I found myself sympathizing and admiring their cunning and even rooting for them a little bit. In particular, I was touched by the part where Omine hatches a new scheme to repair her marriage and take her husband Tomozo back. In the end, the couple’s evil deed catches up with them due to one last supernatural twist, but the pair comes terribly close to getting away with a happy ending.

I was surprised to find that most online summaries explained Otsuyu’s and Saburo’s story, but not Omine’s and Tomozo’s, though the servants’ part took up the entire second act and the majority of the first act in the version I watched onstage. At the best of times, they counseled one other, consulted one another, teased each other, tried to shove chores on the other, bickered, bantered, acted silly, and melted each other, completely unafraid of showing one another their true selves and without any secrets, equally yoked and equally engaged by one another. Their impish, mischievous exchanges were a joy to watch. Omine and Tomozo undergo change as they begin the play humble, intimate, and eager to improve their lot in life, and end up proud, distant from one another, and wistful of the days when they were poor after they become well off. They would never have had the revelation that money and greed must never be allowed to intrude on their relationship if they never make the deal with the ghosts for the capital they invested. It’s not a bad lesson, and it’s a trial that many couples probably experience and grow through after a change in economic fortune. In fact, this was one of the things I found unique and special about this play, that instead of a passionate love story between inexperienced young lovers at the beginning of a relationship, like Otsuyu and Saburo (perhaps the moral of their supernatural tragedy is a metaphor for going too fast too quickly?), this version of Kaidan Botan Doro celebrates a middle-aged love story of a marriage that is still maturing.

Once Omine shocks Tomozo back to his senses and forces him to think through the consequences of his actions, they have another chance. If there were ever a woman to keep Tomozo faithful, it would be Omine, who subtly impresses on Tomozo that she knows him inside out, what his habits are, how to tease him, how to pique his interest and how to keep it. As for why another person won’t do for Omine, it is the same for her (though she goes one step further and pleads “don’t throw me out on the streets” for extra pathos). This deep mutual understanding likely took years of living together to acquire. Even though he tries, Tomozo can’t possibly replace Omine with another woman.

However, right after the couple makes up again, the ghosts interfere, and it is hard to tell how Tomozo’s rededication to his marriage would have played out in the long run. I hope it would have. Although the play tries to sell the reason for this occurrence as Tomozo has become too greedy and must be punished for his hubris, because the couple repented and was about to change their ways at the end, I think the ghosts’ final trick was simply the consequence of meddling with spirits in the first place, and would have happened no matter what happened to the gold. The play leaves you with the cheery thought that humans really have no recourse against the whims or powers of ghosts in this story; treating with them or don’t treat with them, you might end up dead either way. Since even the wisest deal won’t save your life, you might as well hold your ground and stay virtuous.

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Impressions of ‘Kanjincho’

dorotheian:

Date written: July 6, 2015
Date I saw play: June (in class, two sessions)

Kanjinchou reminded me a little of a trickster’s fairy-tale, where cleverness and appealing to sympathy win the day and impress even one’s supposed enemies. Essentially, it is a story about Benkei pulling a massive con out of the top of his head, using his cunning and also his vast knowledge of Buddhism to answer a long series of intricate theological questions and lead his party to pass through the checkpoint without every being explicitly discovered. Unlike fairy-tales, however, the consequences for Benkei and Yoshitsune’s enemies’ retainers are probably lethal, and that makes the actions of the honorable enemy retainer Togashi Saemon sympathetic but sad. Togashi is no villain. It is clear who the “good guys” are supposed to be, but the audience (and even Benkei, a little) almost wants to root for Togashi as well. The best possible outcome of the heist would have been if Togashi didn’t notice Yoshitsune at all, but he is just a little too perceptive. Benkei and Yoshitsune get what they want, but at what may be the cost of their sympathizer’s life later down the line (I think! that was my understanding), which makes the victory bittersweet. In the meantime, once Togashi decides to let Benkei and Yoshitsune go through the checkpoint, he has no problem bringing a gift of sake for Benkei to apologize for the difficulties he put him through. Both men come to respect each other and the compromised position their situation put each other in.

In Togashi’s character, I think Japanese people have admiration for living with integrity in choosing what one feels is ‘right’ and respecting one’s opponent, even over obeying one’s master. Still, loyalty is as always highly valued even over one’s own life or career. If this had been a Western play, perhaps Togashi might have found a way to join Yoshitsune and Benkei and abandon his former master rather than remain behind at the checkpoint to face the consequences.

At times it was difficult to follow what was happening in Kanjinchou. For example, it took a while for me to understand what happened that required Benkei to beat his master Yoshitsune. However it was clear to me how difficult it was for Benkei to do so, and why it was so uncomfortable for him to lead a group of people ranked above him and treat them as his subordinates. If those people decided to bear a grudge, they could make his life miserable or demand certain things from him even though he saved their lives. He would probably feel obligated to submit and unable to express feelings of anger with them for being more concerned with etiquette than services rendered. But even if that wouldn’t necessarily happen because everyone in Yoshitsune’s team trusts one another, it still had to have been pretty awkward. Although Japan is one of those cultures that usually avoids eye contact, the sentiment in the concept of “being able to look someone in the eye” is still important. Benkei’s elaborate apology to Yoshitsune is how he resolves the dilemma and regains that confidence that his relationship to Yoshitsune is unharmed, and rebuild trust if it was harmed.

‘Kumagai Jinya’ vs. ‘Togitatsu no Utare’: the Worst and the Best of the Samurai

Date written: August 10, 2015
Date I saw play: July 22nd

Somehow, seeing Kumagai Jinya (Kumagai’s War Chronicle) on DVD didn’t quite do it justice, and I understood the story much better the second time I saw it in the theater. This may have less do to the merits of the theater than it does with re-watch value, although I far preferred the acting of the live theater production I saw to the video. In any case I understood Kumagai’s position much better going into the story whilst knowing what was going to happen and what he was trying to hide. Although I like samurai stories well enough, sometimes it is really difficult for me to wrap my head around what appears to be an almost superhuman, alien code of morality and loyalty, and yet believe that somehow it could possibly be carried out by a human being. What the theater production did was to help me peek behind the mask to see the human side of Kumagai. But, since I had seen the very traditional Kumagai Jinya before, I decided it might be interesting to compare it with the Togitatsu no Utare, a deliberately anachronistic DVD production. I noticed that both plays toy with the question, what makes a samurai a samurai? and present characters who fall into a catch-22. Though they try to force their actions to fit the roles of a samurai, they ultimately fail to uphold all the myriad aspects of being one, including the moral aspect that the samurai demands of themselves. Further, society does not support the attempt to uphold of all of these aspects equally, for the clear-cut soldierly and martial aspects of being a samurai are preferred above all else. Individuals who are found by unfortunate circumstance to be found wanting by the demands of society are drummed out of the rank. The nail that sticks up is hammered down and discarded.

Kumagai Jinya follows the story of a proper samurai forced to make an impossible choice between loyalty and obedience by his general, Yoshitsune. Frankly, so long as it didn’t put family in danger, I think most people would be keen to invent a third option and desert the army if they could neither betray a debt or murder their own child. That Kumagai would accept the either/or framing of his dilemma and choose to murder his own son is almost unthinkable. The cure is far worse than the disease. And for one’s master to offer terms like that is likewise almost unbelievable, except the audience must put themselves in Yoshitsune’s shoes to know that he has concerns of his own. Yoshitsune ruthlessly requires absolute order in his army. Kumagai’s mercy on an enemy could well lose Yoshitsune his war down the line or lead to future rebellion, and his action casts his exact loyalty into question; in return, Yoshitsune demands the ultimate price that will prove Kumagai’s loyalty beyond a shadow of a doubt, trading one personally precious life for another with worldly position and value. Yoshitsune does this knowing that this price will break Kumagai as a warrior and he can no longer ask Kumagai to fight for him. Yet if Kumagai can no longer fight for Yoshitsune having been forced to do this, what was the point of testing the strength of his loyalty? The answer is, I think Yoshitsune wanted to punish Kumagai for his weakness and for not measuring up to Yoshitsune’s standard for his warriors, and Yoshitsune also wanted to make absolutely sure that Kumagai would become so sick of war he would never again take up the sword for either side so that he would not pose a threat to himself later. The moment Kumagai hesitated, he was done as a samurai in Yoshitsune’s eyes. He failed.

What Kumagai seems to think of being a samurai is more relational or spiritual than martial in nature, quite unlike Yoshitsune, yet he forces himself into the dutiful role of a soldier when he obeys Yoshitsune’s order and decapitates his son. He does not see any other option. In doing so, he stays true to his lord, but not true to himself. His loyalty to others, was so extreme it left him no loyalty to his own blood family. He failed. The cognitive dissonance was too much for him and it became impossible for him to continue living as a samurai. On the other hand, if Kumagai had run away and refused to behead his son, he would also be essentially abandoning his role as a samurai and probably branded a traitor and a fugitive as well. Kumagai avoided that fate, but he did not avoid the guilt from his decision. The truth is, given Kumagai’s compromised  situation, there was no way he could escape being an imperfect samurai. Kumagai’s mistake, ironically, was that in looking to the fulfillment of his obligations first, he ended up making an even more immoral choice and committed the greater evil, losing everything as a result. If he had simply murdered the emperor’s son despite his attachments like Yoshitsune wanted him to, he would have been despicable but he would not have been so devastated.

Togitatsu no Utare (The Nail That Sticks Up) asks a slightly different question. Can one who isn’t born into the system of the samurai become a samurai, to change social classes? Tatsuji, the hero of the play Togitatsu no Utare, fails to fit the confines of either the samurai he wants to enter or the commoner class that he left. His get-prestige-quick schemes always get him what he wants temporarily, but what he really wants always slips away. In fact, what he wants isn’t really clear: as Tatsuji tumbles from one crisis of his own making to the next, what he wants out of the situation changes, for the grass is always greener. Tatsuji continually propels himself into something new, something exciting, with new conflict. When the situation doesn’t suit him, he changes the rules. He never rests in one place long enough to learn the rules and dedicate himself to put in the effort to achieve one single thing. How did he ever think he could become a samurai? Although Tatsuji blames this on an accident of birth, I disagree. I think Tatsuji doesn’t understand any aspect of society at large, high or low. Tatsuji is skilled at negotiating with and charming individuals, but he is not good at succeeding at fooling society at large, for he cannot anticipate the long-term results of his actions. When Tatsuji fools the village into hailing him as a hero for going on a revenge quest, he is finally caught when it is inevitably revealed that he has lied to them and he is actually the villain being pursued for revenge! The village wavers at first, but they turn their backs on him, equally as excited by the real revenge vendetta as they were by Tatsuji’s false one.

On the other hand, at first glance, Tatsuji appears to a shoo-in for a successful merchant. He is glib, quick-thinking, persuasive, flattering, prestige-loving, and perhaps above all, utterly shameless. Tatsuji does not hesitate to say or demonstrate whatever he needs to, whether it is utterly ridiculous lies or abject genuflection that borders on the satirical in order to get what he wants in the moment. Given these qualities, it is laughable for Tatsuji to consider himself a samurai: a samurai is all about honor and perseverance, but Tatsuji has no perseverance, no honor, and no pride in himself. Perhaps he even has no self-esteem. He seeks the prestige and the great deeds to give himself that self-esteem he is lacking as fast as he possibly can manage it. Perhaps this accounts for his inability to focus on a single goal: there are as many ways to pursue the celebration of others as there are stars in the sky, and to Tatsuji, it really doesn’t matter whether admiration and fanfare comes from a samurai lord’s wife, an old kendo master, a village of idiots, or a pair of pretty ladies. It doesn’t even matter if the attention is negative. Tatsuji welcomes even the attention of bullies, for then he can best them and make fools out of them and make himself a pitiful figure in the light of them. A samurai is not this insecure. In principle, a samurai has all of the prestige and power they need in society simply by being a samurai, and so they do not need to milk their deeds great and small for all they are worth or insist on their involvement in them.

But is Tatsuji really lower class, or even a good merchant? I cannot see that either. For one thing, the way he gets carried away by his own schemes doesn’t bode well for his financial success. Also, for a merchant to keep his customers’ respect, a certain amount of restraint when flattering or apologizing is necessary. Tatsuji might survive as a merchant, but anyone who knew him for long would surely come to despise him for his fast talk, his use of dirty tricks, and his lack of shame. Furthermore, Tatsuji is unable to anticipate how his change in status would affect his relationship with those of his former rank, which seems to suggest that one reason he is so desperate to change social classes is that he doesn’t understand them very well to begin with, either. As a samurai, Tatsuji’s former peers see an opportunity to exploit him for money and an object of amusement. Tatsuji is quite unable to motivate his servants to do his bidding quickly. Yet as one who used to be of that class, Tatsuji should have known that this might be how they react. Again, it is the nature and structure of society at large that bests Tatsuji. And of course, a real samurai would have the capital and the knowhow to use their status to make the servants work for them. Tatsuji does not have that kind of experience and the other samurai and lower-class are unlikely to teach him better as long as his ignorance makes him an easy target for exploitation.

Utare no Togitatsu asks the question, “Can one successfully change ranks and become a samurai?” but it does not completely answer its own question. Actually, Tatsuji is a rather pitiful individual that does not fit anywhere, and changing ranks does not affect that: in fact it makes his difficulty comprehending the workings of society even more difficult, for the change in status itself introduces a new learning curve every time—a learning curve that Tatsuji does not trouble himself with or apply himself to tackling. It is not that it is impossible to change ranks. It is that Tatsuji’s character and his get-honor-quick mentality are not suited to the samurai lifestyle that Tatsuji chose. But no matter what, Tatsuji’s lack of self-esteem and self-reflection dooms him not to fit anywhere, and his relentless pursuit of self-esteem will lead him nowhere. The material, external things that he pursues, including samurai status, cannot give him what is internal. Unfortunately, while Tatsuji could exist imperfectly but indefinitely in the lower class, his ambition leads him to the higher stakes of revenge, honor, and retribution that ultimately kill him. The hapless Tatsuji sees society’s obsession with revenge as an opportunity to gain prestige and rank, but that obsession turns on him and leads to his downfall.

Impressions of the Middle Act of ‘The Love Suicides at Amijima’

Date written: April 29, 2015
Date I saw play: April 22, 2015

I really loved the middle part of The Love Suicides at Amijima that I saw. Although the gentler, subtler acting style of wagoto was not quite as spectacular as Fujimusume (Wisteria Maiden) or Koi Tsukami (Carp Catching), I did not feel like I was missing anything. The wagoto acting style’s careful, understated realism helped keep the highly dramatic story of extreme human emotions from becoming overly melodramatic, and so effective and relatable. Despite the difference in culture and time periods, I felt like I was watching a very well done soap opera and I was quickly hooked into the characters and the story. I even found myself laughing at times!

Some cultural elements interested me greatly from the start, such as the short exchange where Jihei’s apprentice prods and pushes Koharu for a tip before he leaves after delivering the letter. While Jihei’s apprentice probably thinks he is being subtle, he doesn’t disguise his interest in the money very well, yet Koharu richly rewards his persistence. If he had not hinted so strongly then she might not have given him money at all, because she could no longer pretend not to know what he is after. Even so, Jihei’s apprentice praises her beauty and kindness after checking the generous amount. I thought this was a telling depiction of the practice of bargaining in Japan and the acceptable bounds of give and take and the role of kindness versus practical self-interest. Essentially one must be self-interested first, and this is expected so the social niceties are exploited—it is only what happens after this selfishly motivated social bargaining that matters. It is seen as better to give without stint than to give half-heartedly, even when one’s hand is forced by social convention. This is what Koharu does.

The character of Tahei was so terrible and awful that I couldn’t believe it at first. I was shocked by Koharu’s proprietress’ frank assessment of him as a “nasty piece of work with a mouth like a sewer” and a “sleazy grime-eating cockroach,” and I was even more shocked when Tahei’s actions showed he fully deserved the designation. An inferior story would have let the words stand for themselves and not backed them up, but this play passed that test with flying colors. Tahei spends his time onstage either mocking Jihei the paper-seller directly, calling him ‘waste paper’ (I am fairly sure the translator shied away from saying ‘toilet paper’) while putting down Koharu indirectly through her attraction to Jihei, something everyone knows about because gossip gets around. Tahei targets Jihei not only because he hates him personally but because he is aware that Jihei is his rival in ‘love,’ if that is even what Tahei is after. Tahei’s idea of ‘love’ leaves room for jealousy over ‘his’ girl but none for mercy or caring for her, so in his presence she becomes an object: his feelings are not love at all but machismo. There is no way Tahei could not have known about Koharu’s feelings yet he chooses to desecrate them in the worst possible way and utterly fails to even attempt to endear himself to her. There is no question that Koharu should avoid marriage with him at all costs, and she would doubtless be pushed to suicide anyway if forced into one. In addition, the ‘improvised instruments’ Tahei uses for his awful jingle (the jingle itself is a clever and humorously biased meta-fictional framing device to recap the story so far!) are an insult to the skills of the musicians who are seated just to the right of the stage as he temporarily usurps their narrative role, and his complaints about the saké being reserved for the samurai’s coming in the evening reveal a dangerously self-important streak. I did not expect myself to agree that Tahei was indeed worse than the average loser and I was very delighted to be surprised.

On the other hand I did not find Jihei to be the most sympathetic or likable of heroes. He struck me as fitting the stereotype of the immature ‘nice guy’ who isn’t actually nice when things don’t go his way. Though I do think Koharu’s love is true and Jihei’s feelings were strong, even if their circumstances had worked out perfectly, I am not certain they would remain a happy couple. Though the wounds of betrayal were fresh and his passion had made him irrational and unable to think straight, I could not forgive him for turning on Koharu so quickly, for verbally abusing her, or for attempting to murder her. The madonna/whore complex was evident in his insecure behavior. Because of her profession, and despite knowing it could put her in a tenuous position, he didn’t trust Koharu much at all. The moment a piece of contradictory evidence arrived, it too easily shattered his image of Koharu’s fidelity, and he was unable or unwilling to listen to her side of the story. At this point he too turns Koharu into an object, unable to care for her when she does not live up to her promise or his expectations. (I am aware that this is a modern feminist analysis of an old story, but I do think it is worth questioning the messages one picks up from dated works.)

Speaking of Koharu, it surprised me how many parts of scenes her actor had to play while frozen motionless or nearly motionless. I would forget she was on the set at times while watching the main action between the brothers or the other characters, but sure enough, when I looked back to her room, she was there. Koharu does not have a lot of speaking lines but acting her must take an extraordinary amount of patience and discipline for the onnagata.
My favorite part of the play was watching Magoemon deal with his uncontrolled younger brother Jihei. As an older sister, I sympathized with Magoemon a little. As eldest children, we want to trust our younger siblings but are also highly aware that they may not deserve to be trusted; we are concerned about the family as a whole, but also for our siblings’ best interests, even when they can’t see it themselves. Therefore we give second chances despite our expectations having been betrayed many times before. The scenes where Magoemon mediates between Koharu and Jihei, exhorts Jihei to see the error of his ways and give him proof of his change of heart, and is wheedled into letting Jihei see Koharu one last time but hangs back just in case are familiar familial scenes to me, though of course the stakes are higher.

Although it was not especially spectacular to watch or look at, the plot and the relationships of the characters were so deep and well done that I was completely mesmerized for the entire show.

Tsubosaka Reigenki

Written: July 6, 2015
Date I saw play: June 19, 2015

Although quite basic, the prelude to the Kabuki play was interesting enough and effective in its intent; the most interesting part, for me, was watching the onnagata playing Osato transform onstage (although I could have done without the commentary there) and demonstrate the woman’s way of walking. The play itself I thought was tragic, yet rather adorable in the end. The play capitalized on the tight bond that Osato and Sawaichi shared. Even despite the interference of Sawaichi’s depression, it was clear that he and Osato used to be on the same wavelength, and in some ways still are, so once Sawaichi’s eyes are cured they are once again a terribly lovey-dovey couple. It is not that they have returned to the state of their youth, exactly—their in-jokes seem to have been cherished and cultivated over a very long time—but as if their youth never really left them, and they are overjoyed to be full partners again. While their verbal banter was affectionately familiar and well-timed, the moments where they dance and play with Sawaichi’s cane and lead each other up the path, even going so far as to threw in a modern gesture as a nod to the audience when they point at each other and wink near the end, was very cute.

Sawaichi goes through almost the entire play eyes shut. Even such a simple thing is so incredibly hard to do! I will probably never stop appreciating the lengths that actors go to bring their characters to life. Of course, for Sawaichi, this condition is also difficult, and fills him with despair. Osato is a good wife, very loving towards him, and does not feel the same despair. She has already learned to adapt somewhat to his disability, although she makes some mistakes, like when she is leading Sawaichi a little too fast and he trips over a ledge, but she is not nearly as bothered by his disability as he is. Moreover, she speaks cheerfully of praying for his healing every night, and even invites him to come with her, so that they could petition the goddess together; otherwise, Osato speaks of her efforts only as proof in order to convince Sawaichi that she still loves him as much as ever. Actions are supposed to speak louder than words, after all. Sawaichi unfortunately draws a completely different set of conclusions from those same words because Sawaichi’s depression has twisted all that enters his ears to be negative. Thinking his death will ‘help’ Osato because he himself is worthless now is Sawaichi’s depression’s excuse. Instead of hearing Osato’s plea for an opportunity to do something like get out of the house and spend time with one another, Sawaichi somehow only hears the message that Osato is burdened by her duty to make the penitence. Frankly, depression is delusional, and Sawaichi is not thinking logically when he decides to leap off the cliff. And it is not surprising that Osato follows in the heat of the moment. Suicide breeds suicide, and the belief that husband and wife can be together in death is pretty strong encouragement, along with Osato’s grief and guilt for not seeing how badly off Sawaichi was, and the thought of living on without Sawaichi probably devastated her. That was an outcome Sawaichi didn’t even consider because his self-esteem was too low, and he assumed that Osato would get over him quickly. If he had realized the actual effect on her, perhaps he would not have jumped.

Of course everything is all right in the end. The (adorable) child Kannon decides to save the couple, and heals Sawaichi’s eyes. As blindness was the trigger for Sawaichi’s depression, it probably will not come back as long as he stays healthy and is able to think positively. It doesn’t seem that Sawaichi learns anything through the experience, and there doesn’t to be an explicit moral for the audience. This is a trifle disappointing, as it would have been nice to see Sawaichi become a little more resilient, or at least to say something like “What was I thinking? I would never do that again!” Oh well. It is a short fluffy story after all, while depression is a heavy and complex subject: from the standpoint of successful Kabuki, all a play absolutely has to be is entertaining, and it was.

* Afterwards everyone was wondering about the Kannon, who I think was played by a girl who was not from a kabuki family. That’s highly unusual.

外国人川柳 / Foreign Senryuu

The best of the short haiku poems created in class by me. (Written in Japanese first, then translated.)

ようせいと科学 / Fairies and Science

仲良くならない / Don’t get along very well;

どっちこわす? /  Which one will break first?

友といっしょ / Always found with friends

自転車見たい / Like a bike goes on two wheels –

自立なし / No independence

友いないと / Without any friends

自転車みたい / Like a bike stands on two wheels

たおれやすー!!!/ Tip over easy—!!!

車輪の石 / Rocks stuck in a tire

うしなわないと / If you don’t shake them loose soon,

ゴロゴRゴリー / GOROGOROGORORI

~

手と足は / Our hands and our feet

地を信じるのに / Believe in the very ground

地震起こる / Though earthquakes happen

日本の事

美術館で / At the museum

知らなかったのは / What I didn’t know was that

ペンが禁止だ / Pens are forbidden

伝言ゲームで / We play telephone

警察が来て / and the police interrupt

「大声」だって / saying, ‘loud voices!’

Kabuki today was an all-day event but it was so darned awesome. Because it was so popular that there were standing tickets only for the play we wanted,David Walker and I bought tickets for both of the afternoon / evening plays, because if you do one then you can stay for the rest. We watched “ICHINOTANI FUTABA GUNKI – KUMAGAI JINYA” (Chronicle of the Ichinotani Battle: Kumagai’s Battle Camp) and “KAIDAN BOTAN DORO” (Ghost Story of the Peony Lantern). Oh man, oh man, I loved it. “I laughed, I cried; it moved me, Bob….”

I’d actually watched Kumagai Jinya before in Kabuki class, but seeing it on stage once more somehow helped me to understand it better. The situation itself is complicated, and the rigid concept of samurai loyalty can be really difficult to comprehend. This time, I really got it, and by the end of the very serious play I felt very sad and upset. This was largely due to Kumagai’s stricken and heartfelt acting, I think, and also the onnagata playing the Empress’ daughter and Kumagai’s wife were excellent.

Kaidan Botan Doro exceeded expectations in every possible way. I wanted to see a ghost story play most of all, and I got one! And it was the best! It’s a story of greed and the rise and fall of pride – but it’s also the story of a very smart, cunning, well-matched couple Tomozo and Omine who think they can best a pair of ghosts. They are the villains, but they are also the protagonists, and again and again, I found myself sympathizing and admiring their cunning and even rooting for them a little bit—well, mostly for the woman, Omine. In the end, they fall of course, but they put up a VERY good fight (because they, unlike other characters, don’t make the mistake of underestimating their foe), and that’s what makes a truly excellent story. I am forever greedy for tales of the people who *almost* make it out of Fairyland or the Underworld and so on, and this ghost story absolutely took the cake for me.

OK, gonna write those essays! :D