Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (8)

Shinnai Shone on the Toho Stage

For one month, the performances of shinnai with the two major actors, Isuzu Yamada and the kabuki actor Shoroku Onoe, were joyfully received with great ovations, and not only from shinnai fans. Shinnai itself also was a big star.
Shortly after the war, Isuzu Yamada came to Kagurazaka at the request of the Isuzu traditional sweets shop to promote the shop. I remember that she went to the shop riding through the streets of Kagurazaka on a palanquin.
When I talked with Yamada about that, she had a faint memory of it.
The shinnai work that was to be performed in Tsuruhachi Tsurujiro was originally the Akasaka Namiki scene from Tokaidochu Hizakurige. However, as that music was not very exciting to listen to, I proposed using the Yukizeme section of Akegarasu Yume no Awayuki. That work has many wonderful passages for both shamisen and joururi, and it shows off the beauty of shinnai, so it is well worth using. Inui, the director, agreed to my suggestion, and that was what was used.
Shoroku was anxious and, on the first and second days of the performances, he asked me to stand behind the gold folding screen that was in back of the platform on which the actors performed shinnai.
As a performer, he naturally thought that failure was unforgiveable but, in the end, his concerns were groundless. I was truly impressed with his top-notch performance of this classic work.
On the middle day of the month of performances, I visited Shoroku’s dressing room to greet him. He gave me a long box, saying, “Master, this is a token of my gratitude.” “Thank you very much,” I replied when I received the present. I’d gone to his dressing room with the late Yanagiya Tsubame, a woman rakugo performer who was my best friend.
I thought it must be a box of chocolates and almost gave it to Tsubame. When I got home and opened the box, I found a luxurious Corum watch. It was lucky that I hadn’t given it away. Because my father was a big fan of Shoroku, I was especially happy. My mother was also very pleased. I suppose I felt a touch of devotion to my father. I am still using that watch carefully, and it is now being thoroughly cleaned. I received a diagonal band (a man’s narrow obi) from Yamada. As yet, I haven’t used it; rather, I’m taking good care of it. The obi and the watch are treasures of my lifetime.
The opening night party for the Tsuruhachi Tsurujiro performances was held at Shoroku’s home in Kioi-cho; many people gathered in his grand hall. Meat was grilled right there; Shoroku himself cooked it for us.
I drank rather a lot and got very drunk. In addition, I played mahjong with Yamada, Gonjuro, and others. As I rarely played and so wasn’t very good at it, and besides I was drunk, I lost a lot.
All those people are now dead; these are happy, sweet memories for me.
Even now, I can still hear Shoroku’s nice voice, pleasant phrasing, and good, crisp lines spoken with an Edo accent.
Since establishing a deep relationship with Toho thanks to Shigetami Enomoto, I have been involved in traditional shinnai and the promotion of shinnai. I am very grateful for his support; he was truly my benefactor. Furthermore, because of that, I got a chance to help with Misora Hibari’s performances (described in the next essay).
In order to popularize shinnai, Enomoto wrote scripts for five shinnai plays. I had been thinking for a long time that the most effective way to get many people to listen to the minor art of shinnai would be to ask famous artists to perform it.
Performances of Enomoto’s original scripts for shinnai plays were done with supporting appearances by actors and rakugoka. They drew big crowds every time, and made a good contribution to the promotion of shinnai. They were interesting events, and I was happy to perform with my friends. For the first time, I too appeared wearing a wig.
Even though all the performers were my friends and so received only low fees, we were in the red for every performance. Each time, I borrowed money from my mother, but I never paid her back. I appreciate the sponsorship of my mother’s restaurant, Kikuya, in Kagurazaka.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, June-July 2014 issue, issue #74)

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