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Japan Research Centre

Performance: Bunraku performance: Chanter and Shamisen

THIS EVENT IS ARCHIVED
Performers: Takemoto Chitose-dayû and Toyozawa Tomisuke

Date: 7 March 2007Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 7 March 2007Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Brunei GalleryRoom: Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Performance

Devils Island
by Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Translated by Andrew Gerstle

We are fortunate to have two professional Bunraku musicians, the chanter Chitose-dayû and the shamisen performer Tomisuke, to perform at SOAS. They are sponsored by the Japanese Government Cultural Affairs Office. An English translation will be projected on the stage.

"Devils Island" (Kikaigashima), usually performed today in bunraku and kabuki as a single play, originally premiered in 1719 as the second scene of act two of the five-act Heike nyogo no shima (The Heike and the Island of Women), a jôruri puppet play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). "Devils Island" was revived as a distinct play in 1772 in the puppet theatre and during the nineteenth century became part of the Kabuki repertory as well. It is based on the story of Shunkan's exile, first told in the Tales of the Heike and later in the Nô play Shunkan. Chikamatsu adds a female character, the local fishergirl Chidori, and makes the scene more dramatic with the revelation of the death of Shunkan's wife Azumaya (as a result of Taira no Kiyomori), and by having Shunkan fight with the villain official Seno'o who taunts him. The version translated here is from the original jôruri play.

Takemoto Gidayû (1651-1714), the most famous jôruri chanter for whom Chikamatsu wrote many of his plays, outlined a formula for the overall themes of each of the five acts. In this scheme, act two is symbolically in the Buddhist realm Shura (Ashura), a sphere of never-ending fighting and revenge. Chikamatsu clearly has this in mind; Devils Island is a kind of hell on earth. Shunkan was exiled to this far off island as punishment for leading a rebellion against the despotic Taira no Kiyomori. In act one (Gidayû's theme of "Love") Chikamatsu focuses on the arrogant, insatiable, and lascivious Kiyomori, dictator of the land, who is presented as an example of the corruption and abuse of power. Kiyomori demands that Azumaya, Shunkan's wife, become his mistress. She chooses to die by her own hand instead of submitting to him. Her lament at her suffering at the tyrant's hand is the climax of act one. The audience, then, meets her exiled husband Shunkan in act two.

In the first scene of act two, we hear of the pregnancy of Kiyomori's daughter Kenreimon-in by Emperor Takakura. A general amnesty is proclaimed, but Shunkan's pardon is callously cancelled by Kiyomori. Shigemori, Kiyomori's wise and eldest son, intervenes, however, and allows Shunkan at least to return to the mainland. The scene "Devils Island," translated below, follows.

The first two scenes of act three focus on a sick and dying Shigemori who bears the weight of the evil of his father's actions. He had intervened to save Yoritomo, the son of Kiyomori's rival the late Minamoto no Yoshitomo, who now threatens to overthrow the Heike. Yoritomo, however, is presented as an ingrate and villain. The final scene switches to the residence of Tokiwa Gozen, wife of Yoshitomo, the Genji leader killed by Kiyomori. Unlike Shunkan's wife Azumaya, she has agreed to be the mistress of Kiyomori. In fact, her plan is to gather an army to overthrow Kiyomori by enticing men into her residence. She has gathered women in her house, a veritable 'Island of Women' (Nyogo no shima) of the play's title, to entice men who, as she says, "by nature, easily fall prey to a woman's erotic charms." The climax is focussed on the figure Munekiyo (sent by Shigemori to investigate Tokiwa Gozen) and his long-lost daughter Hinazuru (in service to Tokiwa Gozen), who are caught between loyalties to both the Genji and Heike sides.

Act four, usually highly theatrical with fantastic scenes, begins with a lyrical journey (michiyuki) of the exiles return from Devils Island. Kiyomori passes them on a royal journey to the Itsukushima Shrine in the Inland Sea. He forces the Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa to jump in the sea and drown because he accuses him of plotting against the Heike. Chidori overhears and saves Go-Shirakawa from drowning, but is then killed herself. She dies vowing that her spirit will seek revenge against Kiyomori. Her spirit becomes a flame pursuing Kiyomori. In the following scene Kiyomori is tortured by a fierce fever. Azumaya's spirit appears and frightens Kiyomori. The climax of act four is the torture of Kiyomori by the spirits of Azumaya and Chidori who force him to experience the fires of hell for his lust and cruelty. He is led to hell in a carriage. Act five is a brief summary of the defeat of the Heike by the Genji forces under Yoritomo and Yoshitsune.

"Devils Island" contains in microcosm the themes of the entire play: the abuse of authority and the power of eros. Shunkan is cruelly kept off the amnesty list by Kiyomori because of his wife Azumaya's refusal to submit to him, but his son Shigemori, the model of a proper samurai who is both honorable and compassionate, adds Shunkan to the list. Kiyomori is represented by Seno'o, who abuses his position of authority to taunt those weaker than him, while Shigemori is reflected in Tanzaemon. Chidori is initially portrayed by Chikamatsu as a fantastic metaphor for female erotic charm, as she emerges from the sea, a beautiful and succulent nymph dripping with sensuality (a passage omitted in Kabuki). The sexual allure between two people and the love that it leads to, is presented as natural and an ideal, in contrast to the lust of Kiyomori and the use of power to force women to submit to his will. Chidori's encounter with Kiyomori's abusive power in the guise of his representative, the bully Seno'o, leads to her song of lament, the first high point of the piece. Chikamatsu is not depicting the historical Kiyomori. Rather, he is portraying the abuse of power by those in authority in Tokugawa Japan. The play ends with the triumph of the Genji, from which the Tokugawa claim their lineage, but the message is that good government and proper samurai understand human emotion and have compassion for those under their rule, a message directly aimed at Chikamatsu's contemporary Shogun Yoshimune and his reforming government.

A comparison to the medieval versions––the Shunkan scene ("Ashizuri") in the Tale of the Heike and the Nô play Shunkan––reveals Chikamatsu's method and the nature of the conventions of Tokugawa popular theater. The most striking change that Chikamatsu makes is the addition of Chidori, the young fisherwoman lover and lowly commoner, who embodies love, eros, and luminosity, Tokugawa characteristics not found in the dark and celibate story of the medieval priest Shunkan. Even Shunkan is transformed into a man who longs for his wife in the capital. Significantly, the news of the death of his wife (who died out of loyalty to him) is one the primary causes for his decision to remain in exile. Chikamatsu has him choose his fate, and takes great care to lead the reader into the heart and mind of Shunkan. First we see him as the reflective figure, alone and destitute; then, we see him as the kind father to young Chidori and Naritsune, delighting in their happiness. Next we witness his devastation and despair at the news of the death of his wife for refusing Kiyomori. This leads him to rise in rebellion against Seno'o, the agent of Kiyomori. He willingly cedes his chance to return home to offer the young Chidori his place. He convinces Chidori to board and leave him behind because he is assured of a place on the boat that leads to Buddha's paradise in the next life after all his suffering in this one. He tells her to think of him as a Buddha, but the final image is of Shunkan the man, tragically alone, abandoned, desperately watching for the last glimpse of the departing ship disappearing beyond the waves.

(Translation in Early Modern Japanese Literature: an Anthology 1600-1900, (2002)