Sanmon Gosan-no-kiri (楼門五三桐)

"Sanmon Gosan-no-kiri" is the gedai (title) of a kabuki that was written by Gohei NAMIKI (the first) and first performed at Kado-za Theatre of Osaka in April, 1778. Its second act's 'kaeshi' (or 'kaeshi-maku', a scene in the same act including a curtain-fall), "Nanzen-ji Sanmon-no-ba" (Scene at Sanmon Gate of Nanzen-ji Temple) is commonly known as "Sanmon." When it was first performed, the gedai was "Kinmon Gosan-no-kiri" ('kinmon' means 'a golden gate'), and later it was changed to "Sanmon Gosan-no-kiri" ('sanmon' means 'a two-story front gate of a temple'; 'gosan-no-kiri' is a crest of eleven paulownia flowers divided into three groups as 3+5+3).


On a spring evening, on the rooftop of Nanzen-ji Temple, Goemon ISHIKAWA, a legendary bandit with designs on all the treasure of Japan, is composedly smoking with a pipe and viewing the cherry trees which are in full bloom, and says his famous line: "What a superb view, what a superb view; that man, saying that a moment of a spring evening is worth one thousand ryo (monetary unit), was a person of really small, small caliber; for this moment, I would spend ten thousand ryo, hundred million ryo" ('a moment of a spring evening' refers to the famous phrase of a Chinese poem "春夜Chunye" by 蘇軾Su Shi; in the original, it is 'one thousand gold' 春宵一刻値千金). Then, a hawk, holding one sleeve of a kimono, flies to Goemon. On the sleeve was written the will of So Sokei, a vassal of the Ming dynasty. Reading it, Goemon discovers that he is a son of So Sokei and So Sokei was killed by Hisayoshi MASHIBA; in fact, Goemon had been trying to avenge the murder of his adoptive father Mitsuhide TAKECHI on Hisayoshi previously. Goemon's body shakes with rage and desire for vengeance, then, a police officers appears, and they have a fight. At the end of the fight, Hisayoshi, disguised as a pilgrim, comes to the stage and reads Goemon's poem, "Dear Ishikawa, even if all of the sands on the beach are gone--", Goemon interrupts, "whoa, what?", Hisayoshi continues, "--the seeds of thieves wouldn't run out from the world" ('Ishikawa' refers to Goemon and to shingle). Goemon is surprised and hurls a shuriken (short or small sword for throwing) against Hisayoshi, Hisayoshi catches it with a dipper (for visitors to wash hands and rinse mouth in the temple), Goemon says, "it's a present to you, pilgrim", then the two men glare at each other, swearing to meet again.


"Sanmon Gosan-no-kiri" is a large-scale kabuki in five acts, describing vengeance during the Bunroku-Keicho War where the antagonism between Goemon ISHIKAWA who is a surviving child of a high-ranking official of the Ming dynasty So Sokei and aims to dominate over Japan, and Hisayoshi MASHIBA who is practically ruling over Japan. However, because of the complicated setting including the background of those characters and of many contradictions, it has been rarely fully performed since after the opening, and at present, usually only the second act's kaeshi "Nanzen-ji Sanmon-no-ba" is performed.

"Sanmon" is a short scene that takes less than fifteen minutes. Following the solo of Joruri (dramatic narrative chanted to a samisen accompaniment), the whole Asagi-maku curtain (colored with sky-blue and white) drops to show the colorful, splendid roof of Sanmon on the stage, and on the roof, Goemon, wearing a kinran-tanzen (thick jacket with elaborate pattern sewed with gold threads) and an obyakunichi-katsura (manly wig with shaggy wisps in front), calmly smoking a pipe. The massive set of Sanmon comes up in one to the stage by the mechanism of seri (trapdoor) and Hisayoshi MASHIBA appears from below. At the end of the scene, two actors perform a mie pose called 'Tenchi-no-mie' (mie pose emblematic of heaven and earth), in which from above Goemon, putting his foot on the railing and his hand on the hilt of the sword, stares at Hisayoshi, while from below Hisayoshi, catching the shuriken with the dipper, stares at Goemon; with such three-dimensional picturesque view on the stage, the curtain falls and the gorgeous scene is completed.

The beautiful, peculiar style and the dynamism of kabuki are condensed into "Sanmon". Therefore, sometimes it is called 'Ugoku Nishiki-e' (moving brocade picture). "Sanmon" is considered to have been very popular since soon after the opening, because it was adopted without big changes for many other kabuki where the leading character was Goemon ISHIKAWA or a big bandit written after Goemon; popular titles among such kabuki are "Nanzen-ji Sanmon-no-ba" (Scene at Sanmon Gate of Nanzen-ji Temple) of "Sanmon Hitome-senbon", the last scene of "Aoto-zoshi Hana-no-nishiki-e", "Gokuraku-ji Sanmon-no-ba" (Scene at Sanmon Gate of Gokuraku-ji Temple) and "Namekawa Dobashi-no-ba" (Scene at the bridge covered with soil across Namekawa River) of the same kabuki.


In 1778, when "Kinmon Gosan-no-kiri" was first performed in Osaka, Koroku ARASHI (the third) acted the role of Goemon. He was a great actor who had played in theatres in the Kansai region; he excelled in 'shosa' (movement and manner) and especially good at graceful movements taking advantage of his over-weight body; when acting the roles of 'kuge-aku' (vicious court noble) or 'muhon-nin' (rebel) aiming to dominate over the whole country, he was regarded as the best.

His first son Hinasuke ARASHI took the role of Goemon as well in 1800 when "Sanmon Gosan-no-kiri" was performed in Edo for the first time. Unlike his father, Hinasuke excelled at acting as 'tachi-yaku' (male part); he was successful in the role of Goemon and he also played Goemon on other programs many times. His performance had a great influence on the later performances of Goemon beyond generations.

The role of Goemon requires not only technique but also broad-mindedness of the actor himself. For that reason, in the Meiji era, some connoisseurs to believe that Goemon by Shikan NAKAMURA (the fourth) was better than Goemon by Danjuro ICHIKAWA (the ninth) who was highly respected and called 'Geki-sei' (saint of play).

In recent years, Enjaku JITSUKAWA (the second)'s performance as Goemon has is still said to be especially wonderful when he acted in Tokyo Gekijo Theatre in May, 1950; that performance was even recorded in a movie. At that time, Enjaku had difficulty with his legs so he couldn't move smoothly,.However, in the movie, his Goemon is so powerful that the audience is sighed with admiration. In order to record Enjaku's Goemon as one of the excellent performances filling the history of kabuki, a tapestry was woven based on the picture by Katsuyuki NABEI, and it is hung in the lobby of Kabuki-za Theatre.

As in every kabuki, "Sanmon" gains additional attraction when it is performed by first-class actors.
In 1931, when Utaemon NAKAMURA (the fifth) played Goemon and Ganjiro NAKAMURA (the first) played Hisayoshi, every day during the performance, audience shouted against the actors on the stage: "Futari de Nisen-ryo!" (You two are worth two thousand ryo)

As the nickname suggests, one of the highlights of "Sanmon" is when the set of Sanmon Gate of Nanzen-ji Temple comes up from below the stage by the mechanism of seri (trapdoor), and if there were no seri, Hisayoshi couldn't appear on the stage and the story couldn't go on. In the past, the Minami-za Theatre of Kyoto, which had been as famous as the Kabuki-za Theatre of Tokyo, had 'ko-zeri' for moving actors, but however, didn't have 'o-zeri' for moving big sets, so one of the masterpieces of kabuki "Sanmon" hadn't been performed in the theatre for a long time. Later, after major repairs, an o-zeri was built and "Sanmon" was performed for the first time in the theatre as the kaomise (opening of the season) of 1991, at that time, Nizaemon KATAOKA (the thirteenth) played Goemon and Baiko ONOE (the seventh) played Hisayoshi.

The Goemon's line at the opening was originally simpler: "Someone says that a spring view is worth one thousand ryo, however, that is a small comparison; to me, it is worth ten thousand ryo." That original line had been added exaggerations and repetition such as "chi-se-e, chi-se-e" (small, small), "atai man-ryo, man-man-ryo" (worth ten thousand ryo, hundred million ryo), at last some actor said, "man-ryo, man-ryo, man-man-ryo" (ten thousand ryo, ten thousand ryo, hundred million ryo). With regards to the exaggerations about the money, once Mitsugoro BANDO (the eighth) had commented: "It is just like a business city."

[Original Japanese]