Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (7)

Recollections of Isuzu Yamada and Shoroku Onoe: I

Although I have no memory of who suggested my name to them, I got a telephone call from the production department of Toho asking me whether I would perform in one of Shigetami Enomoto’s productions.
“It’s the April performances at the Imperial Theater of Isuzu Yamada’s Japan beauty scroll series, produced and directed by Shigetami Enomoto,” the person explained to me.
Then, and still now, I’m confident that Isuzu Yamada is the greatest movie and stage actress of the early modern time.
The request was to perform shinnai degatari in Yamada’s production. Degatari refers to performing joururi on a platform on the stage in front of the audience, rather than from behind a curtain. It’s commonplace to do that in kabuki performances, but this would be the first time since the Showa Era began in 1925 that it would be done at the Imperial Theater.
I was in my early forties, and was surprised and excited. It was like a dream. At that time, Enomoto was in his prime.
Enomoto had a many-sided career as a producer and director for the Shinpa, Shinkokugeki, Kabuki, and Toho theaters. He had a thorough knowledge of Edo literature and drama, and also had done research on rakugo. Furthermore, he had a profound knowledge of the classical performing arts. When he was young, he had worked at Nikkyohan in Korakuen. In those days, employees of that company came to Kikuya and drank a lot, and Enomoto often came with them. Therefore, he and I must naturally have met there. (I’ll write about my memories of Enomoto in the next essay in this series.)
At that time, Enomoto was writing plays for the popular theater called the Japan beauty scroll series, which starred Isuzu Yamada. The third play in this series was Osakaya Hanadori, co-starring Tomijuro Nakamura.
For that work, Enomoto wrote the lyrics, and I wrote shinnai music, because Enomoto wanted the music to be in traditional style, even though it was newly written.
From the beginning of our work on this play, we rehearsed every day. Although I was then a young person not afraid of anything, I can still remember that I was tense and excited about working on the same stage with two big stars. Somehow I managed to complete this historic month-long series of performances at the Imperial Theater.
The way that shinnai was included in this work was neither like bunraku, in which the gidayu artist performs all the lines, nor like kabuki, where the actors perform degatari. Rather, at various points in the play, the shinnai performer described the scene and the psychological conflicts of the protagonists in an easily understandable way. The staging was also elaborate; this was Enomoto’s best style as a director.
For shinnai, appearing in this kind of performance was excellent advertising which would have been difficult to obtain otherwise. Ever since those performances, Isuzu Yamada and I were good friends, and from that time on, I occasionally went backstage to visit with her.
After that, probably because we’d become acquainted, I helped out with the shinnai parts of Matsutaro Kawaguchi’s hit kyogen work, Tsuruhachi Tsurujiro, at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater. The director, Ichiro Inui, liked shinnai. In the play, Isuzu Yamada played the part of Tsuruhachi, a shamisen player, and Shoroku Onoe played Tsurujiro, a shinnai performer. As the motif of the play was shinnai, shinnai appeared through out, and those two, as part of the play, actually performed shinnai.
I was in charge of their shinnai training.
As Yamada could play shamisen fluently, I didn’t have to worry about her. Shoroku, too, because he was a kabuki actor and the iemoto of the Fujima school of traditional dance, was good at traditional Japanese music. However, because kabuki and shinnai are barely related, he wasn’t particularly familiar with shinnai, and he seemed apprehensive. The shinnai work that was performed in the play was Akegarasu Yume no Awayuki: Yukizeme; as expected, both of these great actors gave excellent performances.
I was terrifically happy to meet a top-name kabuki actor and a famous actress.
To be continued in part 8.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April-May 2014 issue, issue #73).

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