Genroku Chushingura

元禄忠臣蔵

Genroku Chushingura

A 20th-century updating of Japan’s most famous revenge story

The incident of the 47 samurai who avenged their master’s death in 1702 has been told and retold over the centuries in dramas, movies, novels, comics and more, most memorably in the perennially popular 18th-century Kabuki work Kanadehon Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers). Mayama Seika’s 20th-century updating is a masterpiece in its own right, tackling the story from a different historical and cultural perspective to produce one of the most dynamic dramas of the Showa Period.

Synopsis

by Kaneda Eiichi

The Attack in Edo Castle

Chaos erupts in Edo Castle, and lords and monks run amok in panic. Someone screams that Lord Kira has been attacked. Lord Asano Takumi-no-Kami of Ako has been captured and is brought in. We learn that he has drawn his sword in Edo Castle, a capital crime, in an altercation with Kira Kozukenosuke. He declares solemnly, “I will accept any punishment. I regret only that I failed to kill Kira.” He is ordered to kill himself immediately, though the guard allows Asano’s retainer Kataoka Gengoemon to meet his master before the suicide. Kira is allowed to live despite his involvement in the incident, much to the anger of Lord Asano’s followers.

【Left】[from left]Asano Takumi-no-Kami(Nakamura Baigyoku)、Okado Denpachiro(Bando Yajuro) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre
【Center】[from left]Okado Denpachiro(Bando Yajuro)、Asano Takumi-no-Kami(Nakamura Baigyoku)、Okubo Gon-emon(Otani Keizo)、Kataoka Gengoemon(Nakamura Matsue) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】Asano Takumi-no-Kami(Nakamura Baigyoku) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre

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The Second Messenger

Five days later, Asano’s senior retainer Oishi Kuranosuke and his followers gather at Ako Castle. They know only that their master has been retained at a nearby house but have not heard anything since. The second messenger arrives and reports that their master was forced to commit ritual suicide and that his property has been confiscated by the shogun. They learn that while there is a broad feeling that the punishment was just, the lord’s followers are seen as dishonorable for not taking their revenge. Kuranosuke laments the course of events.

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The Final Judgment

The retainers continue discussions for days, arguing whether they should resist within the castle, commit suicide or take revenge, but fail to reach a conclusion. The treasurer has been ordered to dispose of the household’s assets. Kuranosuke says, “Those who willingly accept the government’s order are betrayers seeking only to save themselves. Those who feign cowardice are truly loyal.” He urges them to see the truth in his actions. However, as the days go on, the number of followers dwindles, and only around fifty of nearly 300 retainers remain in the end. They agree to leave the final decision to Kuranosuke. During the discussions, they receive a visit from Kuranosuke’s old friend, the masterless Iseki Tokubei. He assumes the retainers will be staging a resistance within the castle and has come to join with his son. Sensing little interest from Kuranosuke, Tokubei commits suicide in despair. As he is dying, Kuranosuke reveals quietly his plans to fight the shogun’s orders. This is the first time the cautious Kuranosuke has openly indicated his intentions.

【Left】[from left]Okuno Shogen(Nakamura Tozo)、Horibe Yasubei(Kataoka Ichizo)、Oishi Kuranosuke(Matsumoto Koshiro) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Izeki Tokubei(Nakamura Karoku)、Oishi Kuranosuke(Matsumoto Koshiro) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre

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At Fushimi Shumokucho

It is March 1702. Kuranosuke is leading a dissolute life in Kyoto as part of a plan to throw the enemy off guard. Impatient retainers, not understanding his scheme, talk about organizing a different group in order to take revenge. Even Kuranosuke’s oldest son Matsunojo thinks that his father has gone soft. He asks the other retainers to take his father’s place in conducting a coming-of-age ceremony, taking his grandfather’s childhood name Chikara. Meanwhile, Kuranosuke is passing time with a courtesan in the Fushimi Shumokucho district of Kyoto. He receives a visit from his enraged son. Kuranosuke warns him that “secrets leak like water”. He says, “Revenge cannot be the ultimate aim. The main principle is loyalty to our late master.” In fact, Kuranosuke is tormented because he is being asked to help in resurrecting the household, which would undermine the motivation for the vendetta.

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Lord Tokugawa Tsunatoyo

Lord Tsunatoyo is in line to succeed the current shogun. Kuranosuke’s brother-in-law Suke’emon asks the lord’s wife if he can watch the lord’s procession on the beach. It is revealed that among today’s guests in the walk is the villain Kira, suggesting that the real aim of Suke-emon’s request is revenge. The wish is granted, but Suke’emon is surprised to be received by Lord Tsunatoyo himself. The lord reveals that was had considered granting permission for the samurai to attempt a revenge, but has been told that some are seeking to resurrect the Asano household, which would rule out a vendetta. The lord and Suke’emon have a heated discussion on the topic throughout the night. Later, Suke’emon, attending a performance of the masked Noh drama, believes that the lead performer is Kira. He attacks him with a spear, only to find that the masked performer is in fact Lord Tsunatoyo himself, who fends him off easily. “You’re a fool with no knowledge of who you are,” says the lord. “Your actions cannot be called a justifiable revenge. Have you no principles?”

【Left】[from left]Okiyo(Nakamura Shibajaku)、Tokugawa Tsunatoyo(Kataoka Nizaemon) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre
【Center】[from left]Okiyo(Nakamura Kazutaro)、Tominomori Suke-emon(Nakamura Kanjaku)、Tokugawa Tsunatoyo(Nakamura Hashinosuke) September 2013 Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre
【Right】[from left]Tominomori Suke-emon(Ichikawa Chusha)、Tokugawa Tsunatoyo(Nakamura Baigyoku) December 2013 Minamiza Theatre

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The Parting in the Snow at Nambuzaka

December 13, 1702. A group of masterless retainers, including Kuranosuke, has gathered around the snowy grave of their late master Asano Takumi-no-Kami at Sengakuji Temple. Hakura Itsuki, a priest from Kyoto’s Fushimi Shrine, happens by. When he sees the retainers, he expresses his anger that they have not yet carried out their revenge. “You cowards! You idiot soldiers from Ako.” The scene shifts to the Asano family’s residence. The late master’s concubine and other members of the household have been unable to gauge the truth of rumors of a revenge, and criticize Kuranosuke when he appears seeking a leave of absence. Kuranosuke leaves a package of letters, saying that these are his poems. He again meets Itsuki, who continues to insult him. When the priest leaves, the concubine appears at the window. She has realized that the letters were pacts signed by Kuranosuke’s followers for the vendetta. She thanks him, aware that this will be their final parting. The snow falls more heavily, and a message arrives that Kira is going to be at home on December 14 – the very day their master was killed.

【Left】[from left]Hagura Itsuki(Kataoka Gato)、Horibe Yahei(Ichimura Kakitsu) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre
【Center】Yozen-in(Nakamura Shikan) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Oishi Kuranosuke(Ichikawa Danjuro)、Yozen-in(Nakamura Shikan) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre

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The Back Gate of Kira’s Mansion

December 14, 1702. The gate at the back of Kira Kozukenosuke’s mansion just before dawn. The masterless samurai have gathered at the front and back in preparation for the revenge, awaiting their leader Kuranosuke. Even those who were not allowed to participate have gathered to watch. Screams can be heard from within the household, and we understand from an emerging soldier that the vendetta has been achieved. There is no sign of the soldiers from the next house or Kira’s relatives, who normally would have been expected to come to his defense. Following the old rules of war, one of the retainers goes to inform the concubine of what has happened. The retainers take Kira’s head, cross Eitai Bridge and march toward their master’s grave at Sengakuji Temple.

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At Sengakuji Temple

At Sengakuji Temple, people panic at the sight of the strange-looking soldiers. When they realize that these are the former Ako retainers who have carried out their revenge, they cheer them. Takada Gunbei, who had deserted the group, comes and insists that he left only because his uncle was opposed, but he is dismissed by the others. The group heads to the grave of the master. Each of the retainers lights incense in turn. People ask for updates as they wait for word from the government, gradually revealing the details of the revenge. The concubine’s messenger comes and thanks them on behalf of the household.

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The Mansion of Lord Sengoku

The mansion of Lord Sengoku Hoki-no-Kami, a government inspector. It is the morning of December 15. Two masterless samurai come with an indescribable appearance, having just participated in the vendetta on Kira. Sengoku receives the samurai with full respect, having heard that the entire troupe awaits a ruling from the shogun. When the evening comes, the other samurai are brought from Sengakuji Temple. They relate the story in detail. Kuranosuke says that this was not just a sudden action. He observes that all were willing to sacrifice their homes and lives to achieve their goal. “Our only desire,” he remarks, “was to fulfill the wish of our late master.” These words move Sengoku. In the morning, the retainers are broken into groups and kept prisoner in four households.

【Left】[from left]Tominomori Suke-emon(Bando Kametoshi)、Yoshida Chuzaemon(Kataoka Ichizo)、Kuwana Buemon(Bando Shucho)、Sengoku Hoki-no-Kami(Nakamura Baigyoku) November 2015 Kabukiza Theatre
【Center】Sengoku Hoki-no-Kami(Bando Mitsugoro) December 2011 Minamiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Oishi Kuranosuke(Kataoka Nizaemon)、Kuwana Buemon(Bando Shucho)、Sengoku Hoki-no-Kami(Nakamura Baigyoku)、Suzuki Gengoemon(Ichimura Kakitsu) November 2015 Kabukiza Theatre

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Ôishi’s Final Day

The afternoon of February 4, 1703. Seventeen soldiers, including Kuranosuke, are being held at the home of Lord Hosokawa. On this day, Hosokawa’s young wife asks Kuranosuke for words of advice. He tells her that a person should never forget his initial intentions. A farmer appears, and Kuranosuke realizes that this is in fact a woman named Omino. One of the retainers, Juroza, was supposed to have married this woman, but he had disappeared. Omino has come in disguise to see if her fiancé truly participated in the revenge or has deceived her. Kuranosuke reveals that Juroza secretly kept a keepsake from Omino in his chest, and she realizes that he loved her. An official comes with the order that the retainers must all kill themselves. Omino kills herself as well as a farewell to her fiancé. The retainers commit suicide one by one. Kuranosuke, the last man standing, walks the path to death with a satisfied expression.

【Left】[from left]Hosokawa Naiki(Nakamura Hayato)、Oishi Kuranosuke(Matsumoto Koshiro) June 2014 Kabukiza Theatre
【Center】Omino(Nakamura Fukusuke) March 2009 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Omino(Kataoka Takataro)、Horiuchi Den-emon(Bando Yajuro)、Isogai Jurozaemon(Nakamura Kinnosuke)、Oishi Kuranosuke(Matsumoto Koshiro) June 2014 Kabukiza Theatre

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