Mekuranagaya Umegakagatobi (盲長屋梅加賀鳶)

"Mekuranagaya Umegakagatobi" is a play of Kabuki (traditional performing art). It was written by Mokuami KAWATAKE. It was first staged in March, 1886 at Tokyo Chitose-za Theater. It is commonly known as "Kagatobi." It consists of six acts.

It is a masterpiece of kizewamono (Raw-life sewamono drama, depicting the lower strata of society) of the Meiji era.

It is appreciated as Edo kizewamono kyogen of the Meiji era which Mokuami wrote for Kikugoro ONOE V. The story is structured in mixtures of an illicit affair involving Osuga, wife of Umekichi who was the head of the firefighters called 'Kagatobi' in Kaga clan's employ, and the crime of an evil masseur, Dogen TAKEGAKI; however, as Kikugoro ONOE VI, who was good at playing Dogen, made it into a sophisticated staging, and the play gained popularity, today only the story of Dogen is put on the stage, and for the story of Kagatobi, only Act Two, 'Hongo Toricho Seizoroi', is performed.

Kikugoro wanted to perform "Kanzen choaku nozoki karakuri" (commonly known as "Choan Murai") that Kodanji ICHIKAWA IV had played for the first time, but understanding the intention of persons involved that it was not befitting to Kikugoro's character, Mokuami rewrote it into a new program based on the outline of the details detailed outline?? of 'Choan Murai.'
Compared to the deep and grim "Choan Murai," it has much simpler plot, is cheerful, is filled with sophistication and entertainment, and is a piece that displayed skills of Mokuami who had full knowledge of a difference in the artistic style beween Kodanji and Kikugoro.


Overall structure
* marks indicate the scenes that are mainly performed today.

Yushima Tenjin Keidai (Precincts of Yushima Tenjin Shrine) scene
Ochanomizu Dotegiwa scene*
Act II
Hongo Toricho Seizoroi scene*
Tenjinmae Umekichinai scene
Kikusaka Mekurame Nagaya scene*
Dotakecho Shichimise scene*
Act IV
Kohinata Sekiguchinai scene
Tenjinmae Umekichinai scene
Act V
Koishikawa Suidobashi scene
Sainenji Hakabasoto scene
Hikagecho Matsuzo scene
Act VI
Kikusaka Dogen Shakuya scene*
Kashuko Omotemon scene*
Honzaimokucho Jishinban scene

Ochanomizu Dotegiwa scene

Evil Dogen, while pretending to care for a peasant named Tajiuemon who was suffering from chronic illness, murders him and steals his money. Just that instant, he was questioned by Matsuzo, the head of Kagatobi, who happened to be passing by, but calmly walks away by playing a flute of massager.

Act II
Hongo Toricho Seizoroi scene

The town is in commotion caused by a brawl between Machi hikeshi (town firefighters) and Kagatobi. Lead by Matsuzo, each member of Kagatobi identifies himself one by one. Then, Umekichi comes to break it up and persuades them at the risk of his own life. All of them retreat to save Matsuzo's honor.

Mokuami's craftsmanship stands out in the ornate style in which each member of the firefighters identifies himself. Along with 'Scene of all members at the Inase-gawa River' of "Aotozoshi hana no nishikie" (Picture of flower of Aorozoshi) (Shiranami Gonin Otoko [a group of five dandy thieves]), this is an Act that is filled with beauty of style.

Kikusaka Mekurame Nagaya scene

Dogen takes Osetsu as his wife, who is a younger sister of Tajiuemon whom he murdered, and makes Tajiuemon's daughter, Oasa, serve at Iseya which is a wealthy merchant living nearby, and everyday, he is in the state of drinking, gambling, and having Okane, a masseuse, as his mistress. Despite Osetsu's grief, Dogen and Okane sells Oasa off into a life of prostitution, and plots crime on the story of Oasa receiving five ryo (unit of gold currency) from his master.

Takecho Shichimise scene

Dogen and Okane forges Oasa's letter and visits the master of Iseya, and blackmails him by picking a quarrel for sleeping with Oasa, but they retreat in disappointment when Matsuzo who dashes into the scene drops a hint of the murder at Ochanomizu with evidence of a tobacco pouch that Dogen had dropped and lost.

Famous lines referred to as 'yakuharai' (lines both sentimental and musical) made of five-and-seven syllable meter which was Mokuami's specialty, such as 'Dogen, who lied and extorted money by making lies seem true…' 'it was moreover, the 15th day of the new year, when it was cloudy with rainy clouds though the moon was out, the sky of Ochanomizu was also hazy' are worth attention.

Act IV
Kikusaka Dogen Shakuya scene

The nagaya (row houses) is in commotion because a brown dog had dug up a blood stained clothing from the floor of Dogen's house. Dogen in fact, had buried the clothes stained with blood in the murder in Ochanomizu to destroy evidence. Alarmed, Dogen tries to run away with Okane, but it is too late, for torite (official in charge of imprisoning offenders) has already stepped inside their house. Okane is easily arrested, but Dogen scurries off.

Kashuko Omotemon scene

Dogen flees as far as to the Red Gate (Akamon) of the University of Tokyo, but he runs out of his evil luck and is captured by torite.

This scene is performed in the dark, and the ridiculous manner of Dogen's running makes the audience laugh.

Explanation and anecdotes

Kikugoro V who was a perfectionist gave so much of himself to this work. He had recreated the fashion of Kagatobi through making field trips by asking opinions of those who were concerned, and went so far as to purchase yokan colored (color of faded black mixed with red) haori (a Japanese half-coat) to make it into Dogen's costume. Further, the Shinigami (The Death-God) in Act Five was intended for Kaidanmono (a ghost [horror] story) which may be said as specialty of succesive Kikugoro, and Kikugoro V tried to reproduce Shinigami that he had seen his grandfather, Kikugoro III perform when he was a child, and he produced it on the basis of opinions from artists such as Kyosai KAWANABE and Yoshitoshi TAISO. Encho SANYUTEI (a comic storyteller) who was one of the audiences, shrieked at its intensity.

Kikugoro ONOE VI who considered the role of Dogen as his forte, regarded the scene of extortion at the pawnshop as the most essential part, and said 'The role of Dogen is complete if this scene is performed well.'
Kikugoro was in competence with Kichiemon NAKAMURA I who performed Matsuzo, and combined with the lines made up of the famous meter, their exchange was so extreme as though they were having a big argument.

In January 1949, Kikugoro who was performing Dogen at Toyoko Gekijo Theater collapsed due to a hemorrhage in the eyeground, and died without making comeback on stage; this was his last performance.
The person that acted in substitution on this occasion was Shoroku ONOE II, and Kikugoro had explained the frame of mind in performing Dogen from his sickbed, saying 'Be polite, even if you cannot perform well.'
The performance which demanded foolishness in spite of being a rascal as well as grace and realism, was passed down by this Shoroku II, Kanzaburo Nakamura XVII, Tomijuro NAKAMURA V and so on.

Okane's role is an important one, for if she is performed by an outstanding supporting actor, it makes the content of the play stronger. At the time of the first performance, Matsusuke ONOE IV was well received, but from the Showa era onward, Taganojo ONOE III was the best, and until around the age of eighty, he kept his charm and Edo style smartness.. At present, Tozo NAKAMURA and Hidetaro KATAOKA play the role of Okane as their repertoire.

Seizoroi' is a lavish act of all star performance showing only the scene of fashionablefirefighters identifying themselves while songs such as A log-carriers' [lumber-carriers'] chant [song] and Kanda Matsuri Festival songs are being played. In the present staging, there are more than two times as many firefighters as that of the original work. The only thing that Mokuami created was the lines of five men, Matsuzo, Minosuke, Onokichi, Goroji, Kanegoro, and Ishimatsu, and the others were added in the later generations.

Kagatobi were firefighters that were employed for the residence that the Kaga Domain had in Edo. In Edo, where there were many fires, other than 'Jomachi hikeshi' who were under immediate supervision of magistrate's office, there were 'daimyo hikeshi' who were employed by each daimyo in order to protect their residences and Bukemachi (samurai residence district) from fire. Among them, Kagatobi were popular owing to their flashy outfit and unique hair style, and having their pride in family status of "Kaga hyaku-man-goku"(one million koku of rice produced annually) and "quasi-Tokugawa gosanke", and they had endless clashes with Machi hikeshi every time there was a fire in areas where traditional town houses and daimyo yashiki (mansion of a feudal lord) stood close by. That scene is depicted in the prologue.

The arrest in 'Akamon mae scene' is counted as one of the masterpieces of veiled enmity along with 'Onbobori scene' of "Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan" (Tokaido Yotsuya Ghost Stories) and 'Yatsuyamashita scene' of "Kamino Megumi Wago no Torikumi" (Megumi no kenka (the fight of Megumi)). The scene where comicalness is mixed with suspense, such as Dogen who had been tracked down, mimicking the voices of torite or grabbing torite's vital points in the dark is popular.
Kikugoro VI is said to have taught his disciples who played torite by telling them 'I ain't movin', you guys are the ones that gotta move around.'

Casts at the time of the first performance

Dogen TAKEGAKI, Umekichi, Shinigami・・・・・・・・Kikugoro ONOE V
Tozaemon SEKIGUCHI, Matsuzo・・・・・・・・・Danzo ICHIKAWA VII
Minosuke, Yohei ISEYA・・・・・・・・Uzaemon ICHIMURA XV
Osasuri Okane, Goroji KAMINARI・・・・・・・Matsusuke ONOE IV
Hirukko Onokichi, Otami・・・・・・・・・Kikunosuke ONOE
SAKURAGI no Ohana, Umekichi's wife Osuga・・・・・Matsunosuke IWAI
Tajiemon, Osetsu, Kanegoro・・・・・Sumizo ICHIKAWA
Sekiguchi's wife Tae, Ishimatsu, Bangashira (the head) Sagohe・・・Dengoro NAKAMURA

[Original Japanese]