Chuushingura 忠臣蔵
KEY WORD :  art history / paintings
A pictorial subject matter taken from the Treasury of Loyal Retainers Chuushingura, an epic and well-loved story of samurai revenge and drama. The theme was frequently illustrated by *ukiyo-e 浮世絵 printmakers in multi-print series, actor prints *yakusha-e 役者絵, as well as parody pictures *mitate-e 見立絵, including works by Katsukawa Shunshou 勝川春章 (1726-93?), Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊国 (1769-1825), Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎 (1760-1849), and Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 (also known as Andou 安藤 Hiroshige, 1797-1858). Kitagawa Utamaro 喜多川歌麿 (1753-1806) created several sets of mitate-e prints as did Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1797-1861). Based on a historic event, the original ballad drama, joururi 浄瑠璃 and many later *kabuki 歌舞伎 versions tell of the vendetta of the retainers of daimyou 大名 Asano Naganori 浅野長矩 of Akou 赤穂 (Hyougo prefecture) upon daimyou Kira Yoshinaka 吉良義央 completed on the night of the 14th day of the Twelfth Month of Genroku 元禄 15 (1703). Two years earlier, Asano, taunted by the elder Kira whom he had ignorantly failed to bribe in exchange for information on court etiquette, lost his temper and tried to kill Kira. Asano who had unsheathed his sword in the shogun's palace was ordered to commit suicide seppuku 切腹, his property confiscated, and his retainers forced to become rounin 浪人(masterless samurai). Led by the senior retainer Ooishi Kuranosuke 大石内蔵之助 (1659-1703), the group of 47 men carefully bode their time, allying enemy suspicions with frivolous behavior, and eventually avenged their lord by slaying Kira in his Edo mansion. Their feat, the epitome of both samurai loyalty and the contradictions within the Edo society conflict between personal/family honor and duty to the larger community and Tokugawa 徳川 values, together with their shogun-ordered suicides, quickly became the subject of popular theatre. The oldest extant play is GOBAN TAIHEIKI 碁盤太平記 of 1706 by Chikamatsu Monzaemon 近松門左衛門 (1653-1724). Most of the later plays on the theme followed Chikamatsu's prudent lead in avoiding censorship by safely setting the events in the Kamakura period. In 1748 Takeda Izumo 竹田出雲, Miyoshi Shouraku 三好松洛, and Namiki Senryuu 並木千柳 collaborated on the eleven act puppet play titled KANADEHON CHUUSHINGURA 仮名手本忠臣蔵 (Copy-book of the Treasury of Loyal Retainers Written in Kana). This play, the standard version of the story among many variations, is set in the 14c when Ashikaga Takauji 足利尊氏 (1305-58) was establishing his government in Kyoto. To celebrate construction of the shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimanguu 鶴岡八幡宮, in Kamakura 鎌倉, officers Momonoi Wakasanosuke 桃井若狭助 and En'ya Hangan 塩冶判官 (Asano) entertain the shogunal brother Ashikaga Tadayoshi 足利直義 (1306-52) at the mansion of the haughty district governor Kou no Moronao 高師直 (Kira). Moronao makes advances toward Hangan's beautiful wife Kaoyo 顔世. (Act 1) Wakasanosuke tells his chief retainer Kakogawa Honzou 加古川本蔵 of Moronao, insulting behavior (after Wakasanosuke had interupted Moronao's advances to Kaoyo.) He reveals his plan to slay Moronao the following day. (Act 2) At the shougunal palace in Kamakura, Honzou foils his master's plan by buying Moronao's apology with gifts. Kaoyo gives Moronao a poem rejecting his love and Moronao vents his anger on Hangan, who retaliates with his sword. Honzou restrains Hangan, saving Moronao's life. Hangan's retainer Hayano Kanpei 早野勘平 fights with a retainer of Moronao. (Act 3) Hangan, confined in his residence at Ougigayatsu 扇ヶ谷, receives a shogunal messenger bearing his death sentence. As he commits ritual suicide his chief retainer Ooboshi Yuranosuke 大星由良之助 (Ooishi) rushes in to hear Hangan's dying words "avenge me." The retainers turn over the residence and arrange to meet later to discuss revenge. (Act 4) At an inn in Yamazaki 山崎 (Kyoto), the former retainer Kanpei, living as a hunter, hears of the plan to raise money for Hangan's memorial. Later, along the road from the capital, a vicious bandit kills an old man, Kanpei's father-in-law, and steals his full wallet. Nearby two boars rush by and Kanpei fires at them, but accidentally kills the bandit. In the dark he feels the body and takes the wallet. (Act 5) At the residence of Kanpei's father-in-law, a brothel keeper comes to collect Okaru おかる, Kanpei's wife, who was sold into prostitution the previous night by her father to raise money for Kanpei. Kanpei returns as Okaru is being led away. Two samurai suddenly enter and refuse the money Kanpei offers. Presented with the circumstantial evidence, Kanpei "confesses" that he killed his father-in-law accidentally and then stabs himself. However, the mistake is discovered and as Kanpei dies the two samurai vow to add his name to the league of men who will kill Moronao. (Act 6) At Ichirikijaya 一力茶屋, a tea house in Gion 祇園, Yuranosuke in the midst of a drunken party receives several of his old comrades, who ask about the plan to kill Moronao. Yuranosuke tells them to forget any plans for avenge. The angry men want to kill the traitorous Yuranosuke but the others urge patience. Yuranosuke's son Rikiya 力弥 brings a secret letter from Kaoyo and as Yuranosuke reads it Moronao's villainous spy Ono Kudayuu 斧九太夫, hiding under the floor boards, reads the letter as it unrolls. Okaru, now a courtesan of the place and seated above on the verandah, attempts to read the letter using a mirror. Yuranosuke offers to redeem Okaru, but is interrupted when her brother Teraoka Heiemon 寺岡平右衛門 arrives. Yuranosuke explains that he is feigning a debauched life to fool Moronao's spies whereupon Okaru offers to kill herself for having read the letter. Yuranosuke dissuades her, and then stabs Kudayuu through the floor. Heiemon is allowed to join the league. (Act 7) A travel passage michiyuki 道行 in which Honzou's wife Tonase 戸無瀬 and her daughter Konami 小浪, the jilted fiancee of Yuranosuke's son Rikiya, journey along the Toukaidou (see *Toukaidou gojuusantsugi 東海道五十三次) to visit Rikiya. (Act 8) At Yuranosuke's house in Yamashina 山科, Tonase and Konami arrive to press marriage plans. Yuranosuke's wife Oishi お石 refuses them because Honzou accommodated Moronao with money. In her shame Konami asks Tonase to kill her but the mother is stopped when Oishi calls out that she will permit the marriage to Rikiya if they will kill Honzou. Honzou suddenly appears in the style of a strolling priest komusou 虚無僧 and lambastes Yuranosuke, Rikiya, and Oishi. Honzou and Oishi fight, and then Rikiya appears and mortally wounds Honzou. Honzou apologizes for his earlier behavior and asks to die at Rikiya's hand. As a wedding present Honzou gives a plan of Moronao's mansion as he dies. (Act 9) At his shop in Sakai 堺, the merchant Amakawaya Gihei 天河屋義平 meets Rikiya and several other retainers. Gihei has divorced his wife and fired his servants so no one will know he has bought and sent weapons to the east for use by Yuranosuke and his comrades. Suddenly police arrive and accuse him of being an accomplice to the plot on Moronao's life, but Gihei denies it. Suddenly Yuranosuke leaps out of a box of armor and explains that the police were only a decoy to test Gihei's loyalty. (Act 10) The men arrive at Kamakura, attack Moronao's palace, kill him and offer his head to Hangan's spirit. (Act 11: END)


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