Benten the Maiden and the Five Thieves

弁天娘女男白浪

Benten Musume Meo no Shiranami

A beautiful woman is not all she appears to be

A refined young woman, claiming to have been slandered by a shop, is about to receive a large sum of compensation money when an inconvenient truth is revealed. The subsequent scene with the five thieves on a riverbank, rich in color, music and spectacle, is one of Kabuki’s most iconic moments. An enduringly popular work by Kabuki’s most prolific playwright.

Synopsis

by Kaneko Ken

Wedding preparations

Hamamatsuya clothing shop in Kamakura. A beautiful young maiden, who introduces herself as Onami, appears accompanied by an attendant. She is shopping for her wedding. As she looks at materials, she hides a piece of cloth in her chest.

【Left】[from left]Benten Kozo Kikunosuke(Nakamura Kankuro)、Nango Rikimaru(Bando Mitsugoro) April 2004 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Cyomatsu(Fujima Taiga)、Tobigashira Seiji(Bando Kametoshi)、Nango Rikimaru(Onoe Shoroku)、Benten Kozo Kikunosuke(Onoe Kikunosuke) February 2014 Kabukiza Theatre

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Shoplifting of cloth

When the girl prepares to leave, the head clerk at the shop pulls out the cloth and accuses her of shoplifting. He beats her forehead with an abacus. However, her attendant produces a receipt showing that the cloth was purchased at another shop.

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Shop’s apology

The clerk turns pale when he realizes his error. The shop owner’s son apologizes to the servant, but the servant complains bitterly. The attendant makes a fuss about the scar on Onami’s forehead and demands huge compensation. A fireman who has been called to the shop becomes furious and argues back. The shop owner opts to settle the matter amicably and accepts the attendant’s demand for 100 ryo.

[from left]Tobigashira Seiji(Kataoka Ichizo)、Nango Rikimaru(Bando Mitsugoro)、Benten Kozo Kikunosuke(Nakamura Kankuro) April 2004 Kabukiza Theatre

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“Woman” exposed

When the girl and attendant are about to leave with the money, a samurai emerges from the back of the shop and stops them. He declares that they are frauds, having realized from a brief glimpse at a tattoo that the young “girl” is actually a man. Their secret now exposed, the girl and attendant reveal their true identities.

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“Since you don’t know, let me tell you about it”

The woman removes her kimono and explains that “she” is the thief Benten Kozo, while the attendant is the senior gangster Nango Rikimaru. When they start to cause trouble, the shop owner offers 20 ryo to Benten to buy treatment for the wound. Rikimaru persuades him to accept, and the thieves exit.

【Left】Benten Kozo Kikunosuke(Onoe Kikugoro) March 2010 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Nango Rikimaru(Onoe Shoroku)、Benten Kozo Kikunosuke(Onoe Kikunosuke)、Nippon Daemon(Ichikawa Somegoro)、Hamamatsuya Kobei(Ichikawa Danzo) February 2014 Kabukiza Theatre

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Waiting for priest

After leaving the shop, the two split the money. On the way, they argue on the hanamichi about who should carry back the disguises. In a comical exchange, they agree to alternate each time they see a priest. Back in the shop, the workers take the samurai to the main room inside to entertain him.

[from left]Nango Rikimaru(Nakamura Kichiemon)、Benten Kozo Kikunosuke(Onoe Kikugoro) March 2010 Kabukiza Theatre

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Inase River

This “samurai” was himself a fraud. He is in fact the famous Nippon Daemon, head of the gangsters, including Benten and Nango. The scene shifts to the Inase River, where the police have been waiting secretly in order to capture them.

【Left】[from left]Nippon Daemon(Ichikawa Danjuro)、Nango Rikimaru(Ichikawa Sadanji)、Akaboshi Juzaburo(Nakamura Tokizo)、Tadanobu Rihei(Bando Mitsugoro)、Benten Kozo Kikunosuke(Onoe Kikugoro) May 2008 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Nango Rikimaru(Bando Mitsugoro)、Akaboshi Juzaburo(Nakamura Fukusuke)、Nippon Daemon(Kataoka Nizaemon)、Tadanobu Rihei(Nakamura Shinjiro)、Benten Kozo Kikunosuke(Nakamura Kankuro) April 2004 Kabukiza Theatre

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Lineup of the five thieves

In due course, the five thieves approach the river. They line up, and each in turn proclaims his name and background in his own unique style. They then fight the police.

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