Genpei Nunobiki no Taki (Genji and Heike at Nunobiki Falls)


Genpei Nunobiki no Taki

Kabuki Plus

by Mizuochi Kiyoshi

Meaning of title

The title refers to the first act of the play, which takes place at the Nunobiki no Taki (Nunobiki Falls) near Kobe. A prior Kabuki piece with the same title has been recorded, but it is not clear if the shows are related.

Kiso Senjo Yoshikata (? – 1155)

Second son of Minamoto Tameyoshi. His middle name, Senjo, indicates that he is the head warrior of the crown prince’s residence. The Tale of Heike says that he was killed by his nephew Yoshihira. The story of his death at the hand of the Heike was a creation of the playwright.

Revived by Nizaemon


The Death of Yoshikata was revived in 1943 after a long absence from the stage by Kataoka Nizaemon XII. The current Nizaemon (XV) played the role for the first time in 1973 based on that production, and it has since become a frequently performed piece. One highlight is the finale, when he holds his kimono and spreads his arms in a pose known as the “bat mie” and falls to the stage holding that position from a raised platform. The current Nizaemon introduced a move during the fight scene where he jumps on a pile of sliding doors, which then spectacularly collapses.

Tada Yukitsuna

Birth and death years unknown. He was a descendant of the Tada Genji line ruling over the Tada district in Settsu Province. The Tale of Heike reveals that he leaked to Kiyomori a secret plan to crush the Heike. He later joins the Genji clan general Yoritomo, but is killed by Kiso Yoshinaka. In Act IV, “Toba Gate”, he pretends to be the blind officer Matsunami Kengyo in order to save the retired emperor. He sneaks into the palace and plays the biwa lute, only then revealing his true identity.

Saito Sanemori (? – 1183)

A soldier who joined the Genji leader Yoshitomo during two failed rebellions. He later served the Heike leader Munemori. After losing a battle at Fuji River, he escaped. At the Battle of Shinohara, he was already over 70, but wore red armor and dyed his hair black in order to participate. He was killed by Tezuka Mitsumori. Numerous legends are associated with Sanemori in the classics Genpei Seisuiki and The Tale of Heike, such as the rescue of Kiso Yoshinaka, and his life has inspired many plays and other literary works, such as the Noh play Sanemori.

Otowaya style vs. Danzo style


Sanemori’s portrayal is represented by two acting styles, Otowaya and Danzo. The former, originating with Bando Mitsugoro III and perfected by Onoe Kikugoro V, is noted for a special pose in the arm-viewing scene, eye-catching motions in Sanemori’s narrated tale, and the tale’s shift from formal delivery to a more casual style, showing a formal beauty. In contrast, the Danzo style was created by Ichikawa Danzo VII reflecting a more ironic take. It is not as elaborate and is closer to the narrative puppet style. When Sanemori examines the arm, he holds his collar tightly while Seno poses; when Koman comes back to life, Kurosuke shouts into the well in a custom taken from folklore. Tarokichi’s ride on the “horse” is a Danzo creation, but it has also been adopted by the Otowaya.

Two Sanemori stories

Sanemori’s two narrative passages are highlights. One is his recollection of how he cut off Koman’s arm. The other is his prediction that he will be killed by Tarokichi when the latter grows up. The prediction is only found in the Kabuki version, but it is true to the depiction in The Tale of Heike in both who killed him and how he was killed.

Seno’s “modori” reversal


The hateful old enemy Seno confesses in the end that he is Koman’s father and dies by voluntarily taking the dagger from Tarokichi. This exemplifies the typical Kabuki technique of “modori”, when an apparently evil character proves in the end to be good. Seno places the sword on his neck and guides Tarokichi in carrying out the act, then rolls backward dramatically as he dies in a “falling horse” style.