Thursday, July 18, 2013

Yotsuya Kaidan in Tokyo

Three day weekend last week, so we took a rare chance to visit Tokyo and see a ghost story at the new kabuki theater. The story, Yotsuya Kaidan, is a classic from 1825 according to Wikipedia, but the story has been altered many times and remade as films and tv-series over the years, and many modern horror works (such as Ring) take a lot of inspiration from the play and from Oiwa, the main character that turns into a vengeful spirit.


Spooky Kachidokibashi, Tokyo

Neither I nor Ritsuko really understood the slower first part, but the play really picks up the pace once the first double murder happens. It's a story of murder, betrayal and revenge from beyond the grave, with several substories and peripheral characters.

The main character is Oiwa, married to a ronin named Iemon1, who unbeknowst to her murdered her father for refusing to let him marry her. They're very poor, she is sick and weak after giving birth to their son, and Iemon ignores them both in pursuit of money and status. A woman from a wealthier family fancies Iemon and sends Oiwa poison in the guise of medicine; after Oiwa's face melts from the poison and Iemon leaves her she descends into madness and finally accidentally kills herself when trying to go confront her tormentors. Yep, plenty reason enough to become a vengeful ghost.

As a yƫrei she tricks Iemon into killing his new bride and her father. She then proceeds to torment him in various ways, showing up as a floating corpse in a raft along the river; and when he flees to a mountain retreat she emerges from a burning lantern and torments him with images of their dead child, after which he is finally killed.
Good fun overall, in other words. The setting and costumes were more subdued and realistic than in the kabuki plays I've seen so far. It could be a cultural distinction between Tokyo-style and Kyoto-style kabuki; but more likely it's simply a design chosen to fit a ghost story.

The new Tokyo kabukiza. Brand new, but in a completely traditional style.

The new kabuki theater itself is beautiful and well designed. The sound is great and you can clearly see everything from any part of the hall. They have monitors for rent that give you the dialogue and a quick explanation of the events on stage (in Japanese); it was helpful, but now and again I found myself missing things on stage while I was busy trying to read the synopsis.

Tsukishima in Tokyo at night. This is south of Ginza and kabukiza, and on the way to our hotel.

Tokyo itself was hot and humid. We stayed one night, with the kabuki play in the evening of arrival. The next day Ritsuko went to Ginza while I spent some time in Akihabara searching for a small water pump or a solenoid water valve, but without any luck. It's not really the right kind of place for such parts I guess.

A sudden rainstorm hit Tokyo just as we were about to meet up at the station. Lots of people were caught in the sudden rain without an umbrella. Moral of the story: always bring an umbrella in Japan. Yes, even when you're sure you won't need it.

#1 That's "iemon" with an i, not "Lemon".

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