Maple Viewing



Kabuki Plus

by Iizuka Misa

Three-party chorus


Kabuki sometimes features a mixture of musical groups who appear together on stage and take turns singing. This play features a rare combination of three musical styles. Singers in the takemoto (gidayu) style, typical of puppet-theater dramas, are seated at stage left; nagauta, the style that most commonly accompanies Kabuki, upstage in the middle; and the dance-oriented tokiwazu at stage right. Tokiwazu is the core group here, with the others following its lead.

Danjuro IX

This show is one of the Danjuro family’s Eighteen New Select Plays. Based on an old Noh play, it was written by Mokuami at the behest of Danjuro IX, and the music was composed by the premier musicians of the day in three contrasting styles. Danjuro himself choreographed the piece. The staging was not the usual style of Noh-adapted pieces, which are normally more austere presentations featuring little more than a single painting of a pine tree. In this case, Danjuro filled the stage with colorful maple leaves and featured the dance as the main part of the play in a lavish presentation. The premiere featured a starry cast, with Danjuro IX as the princess/demon, Sadanji I as Koremochi, and Shikan IV as the mountain god.

A revival was staged in November 1899. Danjuro IX, then 63, initially refused to appear due to his age. But he was eventually lured back by the organizers, who convinced him that he should leave a record for future generations.

Mountain god


In recent years, the mountain god is usually played by young actors in the appearance of a young child. This came from the revival performance by Danjuro IX, who himself assigned the role to a young performer, Ushinosuke. Ushinosuke was the son of Danjuro’s friendly rival, Kikugoro V, but Danjuro saw his potential and trained him intensely. The old man role was thus taken by a 15-year-old. Ushinosuke later become the celebrated Kikugoro VI. His young and boisterous performance is captured in the historic film of the play.

Film of Momijigari: Japan’s first movie

A movie was taken of Danjuro IX and Kikugoro V in the revival performance on 28 November 1899. The play, staged at Tokyo’s Kabukiza that same month, was recreated on an outdoor stage for the film. Unfortunately Danjuro’s two-fan dance did not go as hoped due to high winds, but it was nevertheless an historic event, the first movie ever by a Japanese director. It became the first film designated as an Important Cultural Property by the government in 2009. The movie was aimed at introducing Japanese culture to the world only a few years after the birth of film technology.

Shogun designate (yogo shogun)

Koremochi was an actual warrior during the 12th century. He was known as Yogo Shogun, the shogun designate, long before taking over. Taira Sadamori, known for a famous battle, had several adopted sons, of whom Koremochi was the 15th. The name yogo shogun, literally “No. 15 shogun”, is a play on this number.