Fri, Apr 09, 2004 - Page 17 News List

`The Tale of Himeji Castle' is retold

The Tokyo-based Ku Na'uka Theater Company will present a bunraku-kabuki-noh rendition of the story at the National Theater

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tenshu Monogatari, or ``The Tale of Himeji Castle,'' is Japanese Gothic novelist Kyoka Izumi's tragic love story between Tomi, princess of Himeji Castle, and a young warrior Zusyonosuke. Ku Na'uka Theater Company's bunraku-kabuki-noh adaptation provokes the audience to rethink the power structure between the sexes.

PHOTO: VICO LEE, TAIPEI TIMES

The 19th century Japanese Gothic novelist Kyoka Izumi's works have been drawing new attention. His play Tenshu Monogatari, or "The Tale of Himeji Castle," has been repeatedly adapted for stage, TV and cinema in Japan in recent years.

Tonight, as part of the CKS Cultural Center's (國立中正文化中心) 2004 International Theatre Festival (2004國際劇場藝術節), the Tokyo-based Ku Na'uka Theater Company will present a bunraku-kabuki-noh rendition of the story at the National Theater. It will be the first stage performance of Kyoka's work in Taiwan.

The tragic love story is set in western Japan around the 17th century. Tomihino, a beautiful married princess, commits suicide because of her obsessive love for the lord of Himeji castle. Her spirit possesses the wooden head of a lion, making it cry tears of blood. As a result, people in the feudal realm of Himeji believe that devils live in Tenshu, on the top floor of Himeji castle.

On an autumn evening, Tomi, princess of Himeji castle is having a feast to welcome her sister. The Prince is out hunting and catches a beautiful giant eagle. Tomi steals the eagle to give it to her sister. The Prince's henchmen later find that the eagle is missing. They assume that it has escaped to Tenshu, but no one dares to set foot there to catch it. A young warrior Zusyonosuke, whom the prince blames for losing the eagle, is assigned to search for the eagle in Tenshu. He is told that if he does not come back with the eagle, he must commit suicide.

When the princess meets Zusyonosuke she is immediately moved by his loyalty and asks him to run away from the castle. In love with Tomi at first sight, Zusyonosuke returns in no time to see Tomi again. Tomi returns his love, but other warriors are now in hot pursuit of Zusyonosuke. The two lovers escape to Tenshu and hide behind the possessed lion's head. Failing to find Tomi and Zusyonosuke, their angry pursuers stab at the eyes of the lion head, blinding the two behind it. After the warriors leave, the two lovers realize that they have to die for their secret love.

In adopting the play, Satoshi Miyagi, director of Tenshu Monogatari said he aims to satirize modern Japanese society.

"When Kyoka Izumi wrote the play around 1910, he was using a tale set in the 17th century to satirize post World War I Japan. To remain true to the author's intention, my adaptation also expresses the issue of modern Japan," said Satoshi at the rehearsal of the show.

Satoshi's main adjustment is in his use of bunraku, which has two performers playing the same role. One acts as a voice-over while the other silently acts out the movements of the character in a puppet-like manner. An elegant and delicate actress plays Tomi, but her voice rumbles like an old man. The warrior Zusyonosuke's narrator is a young girl with a sweet voice.

"The status of Japanese women 90 years ago was lower. They were not allowed to do anything. Even if their lovers betrayed them, they were not supposed to complain. I have a male voice speaking for the princess to show that women at the time had strong feelings but lacked a voice for their indignation," Satoshi said.

Satoshi went on to explain how he hopes the audience will perceive the role-reversal in the performance. "If we think that the male voice is powerful and solemn and the female voice tender, it's just that we have been conditioned by the society to see that men are are powerful. With the voice of the sexes reversed, we are free to reconsider the strength of both sexes."

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