The last days of Banzui Chōbē

Chikanobu – Ichikawa ?, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX & Ichikawa Sadanji I in the play “Kiwametsuki Banzui Chōbē” (極付幡随長兵衛), performed from November 1884

This play features one of the most famous street-tough heroes (otokodate) of kabuki theatre – others include Sukeroku. They were heroic fighting commoners who would stand up for the rights of ordinary people against the ruling samurai classes. 

The play opens in a very original way with the stage showing a performance of another play – an arogato style play with very bombastic, stylised, traditional characters. Then to the surprise of all concerned a drunk man climbs out of the audience and onto the hanamichi part of the stage and starts to cause a commotion. The theatre manager comes out to try to settle the man down but cannot. Then a samurai appears and takes the side of the drunk in the ongoing argument. Finally Banzui Chōbē gets up from his seat and pitches in to confront the arrogant samurai who is holding forth. Chōbē of course wins the day and humiliates the pompous samurai and the drunkard in front of everyone. [The acting style of this play is very naturalistic and in the Meiji style of contemporary realism. The audience would recognise these characters as people they might bump into on the street, contrasting with the very stylised performances in the traditional arogato play.]

Just as the men return to their seats a blind is drawn back on the left of the stage to show that the performance is being watched by lord Mizuno Jūrōzaemon. The drunk and the samurai both work for him and so their public humiliation by a mere commoner is an indirect humiliation of him too. Lord Mizuno has long hated Chōbē who he considers an arrogant upstart who constantly challenges his authority and so now has his opportunity for revenge. Mizuno plans to get Chōbē alone and unarmed and murder him, so constructs the pretence of inviting Chōbē to a party to view the Wisteria flowering in his garden. Chōbē understands all of this and knows he will be outnumbered but his sense of honour will not allow him to turn down this invitation nor to allow him to take his own men with him. Chōbē’s honour and chivalry in the face of death at the hands of an evil adversary shows him to be good man. Chōbē says goodbye to his wife and goes off to meet his fate. 

In the play he is invited to take a bath in the lord’s bathhouse, which ensures that he is unarmed when the Lord and his retainers burst in to kill him. He fights valiantly using a bath ladle but is quickly overcome.  

 
Bandō Hikojūrō I, Bandō Kichiroku, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX & Ichikawa Sadanji I in the play “Kiwametsuki Banzui Chobe” (“The Renowned Banzui Chobe”) performed at the Chitose-za theatre from 20th August 1887

 
Chikashige – Ichikawa Danjūrō IX as Banzuiin Chōbē & Ichikawa Gonjūrō I as Mizuno Jūrōzaemon in the play “Kiwametsuki Banzui Chōbē” (極付幡随長兵衛) staged at the Haruki-za theatre from 6th October 1881
Kawarasaki Gonnosuke I, Ichikawa Sadanji I & Iwai Hanshirō VIII in the play “Gozonji Banzui Chōbē” (御存幡随院長兵衛) staged at the Morita-za theatre in in May, 1872

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