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Kabuki: Ichinotani Futaba Gunki (一の谷嫩軍記)

Lifetime: 1751

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Biography:

According to Haruo Shirane this was the last play written by Namiki Sōsuke (aka Namiki Senryū - 1695-1751).

"The death of Atsumori, described in The Tale of Heike, is depicted in both noh and kōwaka... The noh features the ghost of Atsumori; his killer, Kumagai turned priest, , is the agent who allows the ghost to appear and speeds him toward enlightenment. In the kōwaka, Atsumori as a young hero dies bravely in a battle described at some length. The story then shifts to Kumagai and his attempts to atone for killing Atsumori. The emphasis shifts almost entirely to Kumagai in the puppet version, which was adapted for kabuki. Kumagai is now considered one of kabuki's greatest roles: performing it is a landmark in an actor's career.

Namiki Senryū wrote the first three acts of the puppet version of The Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani (Ichinotani futaba gunki) shortly before his death in 1751. His colleagues wrote two additional acts, enabling the play to open in Osaka at the end of that year. The puppet play ran for twelve months, and a kabuki version was staged in both Edo and Osaka in 1752. Acts 2 and 3, which tell a complete story in themselves, are the only ones usually performed in either genre today. Act 3, "Kumagai's Camp" (Kumagai jinya), is considered one of the great tragic scenes in kabuki.

Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838) is credited with creating the definitive kabuki version of Kumagai when he added new performance techniques (kata) to his 1831 production, but Ichikawa Danjūrō VII (1791-1859) and Ichikawa Danjūrō IX (1838-1903) created different forms that also are still used. In performing a text similar to the puppet version, kabuki performers have adapted several of the puppets' performance practices. They create perspective, for example, by using small figures (child actors) to present Kumagai and Atsumori fighting in the distance and large figures (adult actors) when they return to shore..."

Quoted from: Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays, 1998, p. 442.

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