Benkei and the Boat


Funa Benkei

One actor must depict contrasting scenes of sadness and resentment

Yoshitsune, the victorious warrior who is pursued by his jealous brother, is a subject of many plays, most notably Kanjincho. In this piece, however, he is a bit player; the main characters are his lover Shizuka Gozen and the ghost of his defeated enemy Taira Tomomori. Shizuka shows her sorrow in separating from her beloved, while Tomomori reappears as a ghost to haunt Yoshitsune for the destruction of his clan. Benkei desperately protects his master from the ghostly attack. A beautiful and dynamic dance piece.


by Oshima Yukihisa

Opening: Yoshitsune and Benkei

The musicians are lined up on the cedar stage of the Noh-inspired set. This is Daimotsu Bay in Amagasaki in present-day Hyogo Prefecture, a major port town for the western sea route. Benkei appears from stage right in a mountain priest costume. He relates the story of the downfall of his master, Yoshitsune, who soon appears from the hanamichi. Yoshitsune is accompanied by a number of retainers to a melancholic musical tone. Benkei recommends that Yoshitsune send his lover Shizuka Gozen back to the capital. This is a secret trip, and traveling with a mistress would be dangerous and socially unacceptable. Yoshitsune accepts this logic and decides to order Shizuka Gozen to return.

【Left】Musashibo Benkei(Matsumoto Koshiro) June 2007 Kabukiza Theatre 【Center】Minamoto Yoshitsune(Nakamura Shibajaku) June 2007 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】Shizuka Gozen(Nakamura Kankuro) December 2012 Minamiza Theatre


Middle: Shizuka’s dance

Shizuka Gozen appears accompanied by Benkei. She wears an elegant Noh-style costume and makeup similar to a Noh mask, and carries a kind of fan (chukei) used in Noh. She dances a separation dance at Yoshitsune’s request. The lyrics sing of a number of major sites in Kyoto over four seasons. This is the highlight for Shizuka. At the end of the sorrowful dance, the headgear from her lover falls off. Unable to control her emotions, she holds it tightly as a keepsake before handing it back to Yoshitsune. But he allows her to keep it. The boat master appears and calls them to get on board. This is the moment of farewell for the lovers. Shizuka grieves at having to say goodbye, and disappears via the hanamichi with great sadness.

[from left]Shizuka Gozen(Nakamura Kanzaburo)、Musashibo Benkei(Nakamura Hashinosuke)、Suruga Jiro(Nakamura Hayato)、Minamoto Yoshitsune(Nakamura Fukusuke) August 2009 Kabukiza Theatre


Climax: Tomomori’s resentful ghost

Finally comes the ghost of Tomomori. He appears on the hanamichi to the sound of flutes and drums. He announces himself and tells of his drowning at the famous battle on Dannoura Bay. He carries a long sword under his arm with hair disheveled and a fierce expression. He emerges from the violent sea and attacks Yoshitsune, the enemy responsible for the destruction of his clan. Yoshitsune does not flinch and fights back determinedly. Benkei, realizing that conventional fighting is powerless against a supernatural being, rubs his prayer beads and prays desperately. This succeeds in overcoming the ghost. The ghost is pushed back onto the hanamichi, where he is still standing as the curtains close. He swings the sword like a watermill as he takes his exit.

【Left】Tomomori’s ghost(Onoe Kikugoro) November 2008 Kabukiza Theatre 【Center】[from left]Tomomori’s ghost(Ichikawa Somegoro)、Musashibo Benkei(Matsumoto Koshiro) June 2007 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】Tomomori’s ghost(Nakamura Kanzaburo) August 2009 Kabukiza Theatre