The Castle Tower


Tenshu Monogatari

Kabuki Plus

by Abe Satomi

Legend of Himeji Castle

There are various legends associated with Himeji Castle, such as the story of Princess Osakabe. Izumi Kyoka used these legends as source material in creating the world of The Castle Tower. A compilation book of ghost stories in the Edo Period, Ro-O Sawa (“Strange Tales from the Elderly”), depicts Princess Osakabe, the ghost of Himeji Castle, as a proud woman with an old-style 12-layered kimono. She is impressed by the bravery and honesty of a low-ranking soldier named Morita Zusho when he dared climb the castle tower as a test of endurance, and gives him a helmet as proof of his deed. Other stories in the compilation feature her sister Princess Kame and the latter’s family members Shu no Ban and Shitanaga Uba.

Princess Tomi and the lion

Princess Tomi’s identity is revealed by the warriors who have come in pursuit of Zushonosuke. This is tied in with the legend of the lion’s head. A previous master of the castle, riding his horse during a falcon hunt, came across a beautiful woman who appeared to be a refugee from a lost war. He tried to take her home, but she protested that she is a married woman. When he tried to catch her anyway, she bit her tongue and killed herself. Just before she died, she confessed her bitter emotions to the lion’s head. The lion licked the woman’s blood and shed tears. The region suffered heavy flooding for three years after this incident, which was widely seen as her revenge. The master then locked the lion’s head in the castle tower, which thereafter became peopled with monsters.

Depiction of human world

Events in the human world are described by Princess Tomi and others as seen from the heights of the castle tower. One distinguishing feature of this Kabuki piece is its criticism of men wielding authority and power, reflecting the author’s ideals. For example, when Zushonosuke lashes out at Princess Tomi for having stolen the falcon, she reminds him that falcons are independent beings as well. Another notable point is the attack of Zushonosuke by his fellow warriors. The scene is performed offstage and described by Susuki. “He’s been caught. I wonder if he’ll fight back given his loyalty…Well done! He’s thrown someone down…” The narration is considered a challenge for the actor and a highlight for the audience.

Izumi Kyoka and Tamasaburo

The Castle Tower had been considered impossible to stage during Izumi Kyoka’s lifetime. Long after the play’s publication, the noted female-role specialist Bando Tamasaburo refined and distilled it into an exciting theatrical piece. The actor’s sublime and mysterious beauty, compared by novelist Mishima Yukio to a translucent butterfly, was perfectly suited to play the role of the fairy world. Izumi’s dream world had found its perfect interpreter. Tamasaburo performed in The Castle Tower for the first time in December 1977 in a modern mixed-gender staging using synthesizer music composed by Tomita Isao. It was revived on numerous occasions thereafter, and Tamasaburo himself directed and starred in a film version in 1995. He appeared in a Kabuki version at Tokyo’s Kabukiza in 1999. Tamasaburo has since brought to life other of Izumi’s fantastical pieces as well.