funabenkei

Toshihide (1863 - 1925)
Benkei in a Boat
Series; Eighteen Honorable Men and Deeds


An illustration of the Noh play titled “Funa-Benkei” (Benkei in a Boat), a drama about Yoshitsune and his loyal retainer, warrior monk Benkei. After Yoshitsune and the Minamoto forces defeated the Taira at the naval battle of Dan-no-ura, the Taira commander Tomomori committed suicide by tying himself to an anchor and leaping into the sea. While Benkei and Yoshitsune are later sailing through Daimotsu Bay, a huge storm arises, caused by the vengeful ghosts of the Taira. Here, the spirit of Taira no Tomomori rises from his watery grave, gripping a naginata and dancing about, his long hair flowing over his shoulders and back. His skin is pale blue, a sign of his otherworldliness, and he wears a white patterned tunic over full hakama pants with a design of splashing waves. In the boat, Benkei clasps a string of prayer beads between his hands, praying for the safety of his companions. His entreaties are heard, and the fearful Taira ghosts disappear beneath the sea.

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A performance of Funabenkei showcasing young performers of the Kita school.  The (nochi-)shite is the angry spirit of one of the fallen Heike warriors. The child role is Yoshitsune while the waki is Benkei. Great job by the shite, but that little kid has got to have the best job in the play. Look at him, he’s just like “I’m a kid. I’m Yoshitsune. I got me a sword. Aww yeah.” Why is Yoshitsune played by a child? Our professor says he thinks it’s because so he doesn’t have any sexual tension with the mae-shite in the first act, Lady Shizuka. 

This is the play we read in class last week. This week, it’s Hanjo, but I couldn’t find a performance of that except for a college Noh club dance. As a former college-Noh-club member, I’ve seen much more impressive amateur girls (er. not me, I was terrible, my seniors in the club.)