09 November 2012


Last night I went to see a type of traditional Japanese play called kyogen. Kyogen are short comedic plays with few actors and loud, drawn out speech. This one was called Utsubozaru which means The Monkey Skin Quiver. In an attempt to make kyogen more accessible to foreign audiences we (us foreigners that is) were invited down to the theatre early where we were broken up into groups and had English speaking guides who explained the story to us and taught us some of the phrases in the play. We were then handed free tickets (score!), mini binoculars and ushered onto the second floor balcony to watch the play (the first floor is called the second floor in Japan for those of you who think I was sitting miles above the stage).
The story in a nutshell is this: a fuedal lord is out hunting with his man slave one day when he meets a poor fella strolling happily along with his trained monkey (played by a small child in a suit). Evil fuedal lord decides he must have the monkey's skin with which to make himself a new quiver and bids his man servant go over and and demand that the monkey trainer hand over the monkey. (At this part in the play there was much back-and-forthing between man slave and monkey man which I couldn't understand and at one point fuedal lord, man slave and monkey man were all pacing around and ululating loudly in Japanese. It looked and sounded very bizarre.) After repeatedly saying no evil fuedal lord cocks an arrow on his bow and threatens to shoot both monkey man and his monkey. Monkey man backs down and begs the the lord allow him beat the monkey to death so the arrow doesn't pierce the skin which he wants for his quiver. Monkey man holds the monkey and raises a stick to beat him. He cries and thanks him for all the good times and is just on the verge of hitting him when the monkey grabs the stick and pretends to row a boat with it. Monkey man cries more and begs that the lord kill them both. Seeing this evil fuedal lord has a change of heart and asks the monkey to dance with him. He and the monkey begin to dance together (which takes up a surprising amount of the play) and the now-totally-good fuedal lord is so delighted he gives the monkey his katana and expensive clothes. The End.
We weren't allowed speak or take pictures during the play but I got this one before it started. My shitty camera does not do
this beautiful stage justice

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Maira Gall