Sunday, January 29, 2017

THE FIRST KABUKI-ZA (1889-1911) Chapter 13: 1899 (Meiji 32)

Chapter 13

1899 (Meiji 31)

Samuel L. Leiter
[Note: This is Chapter 13 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za (1889-1911). It is largely based on Vols. 1 and 3 of the Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi (A Hundred Year History of the Kabuki-za), edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers worked on the project although none are identified in the books for specific contributions. Some material has been cut, some expanded, and other material added from different sources. Links are given selectively and usually only for items not so identified in previous entries. Prof. Kei Hibino of Seikei University offered helpful comments during the preparation of this and all previous entries. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]

Ichikawa Danjūrō IX smugly noted that he was vacationing at his villa in Chigasaki in January 1899 rather than “showing my acting to those guys celebrating ‘Servants’ Day Off’ [January 16]” when the Kabuki-za opened its New Year’s production, at 10:00 a.m. on January 12, featuring Onoe Kikugorō and his troupe. 

There were only two plays offered, one being Fukuchi Ōchi’s new Katakiuchi Gojiingahara (Vendetta at Gojiingahara), the other the two-part dance, Kabuki no Shunkyō (Kabuki New Year’s Performance): one part was the celebratory nagauta piece Ayatsuri Sanbasō (Puppet Handler Sanbasō), during which Kikugorō performed a flying (chūnori) stunt; the other was the kiyomoto piece “Hatsuni” (First Cargo of the New Year), during which audiences viewed a bustling scene on the Ginza reflecting the seasonal display of new sales items; it seemed like a commercial for Tokyo Beer with its “Chicken Trademark.” Despite Fukuchi’s play being panned the production was popular and played to full houses for 26 days, until February 6.
Nakamura Shikan IV as Kumagai in Ichinotani Futaba Gunki  From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.

Nakamura Tokizō I and his son, Nakamura Shūtarō (later Tokizō II) joined Kikugorō’s company with this production. On January 26, Nakamura Shikan IV, adoptive father of Nakamura Fukusuke, passed away at 70.
Nakamura Shikan IV. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
This month saw the first publication of the still important literary magazine Chūō Kōron. Tragically, on January 12 the Ōsaka Kabuki-za caught fire during a performance and completely burned down. On January 21 the important statesman Katsu Kaishū passed away, aged 77.

In mid-January Tamura Nariyoshi returned to Tokyo from Osaka. The Kobiki-chō boss, Ishisada (pseudonym of Takahashi Bunkichi), who had sympathized with Tamura when he cut off his relationship with the Kabuki-za, became a mediator between the forces led by the tyrannical Inoue Takejirō and the stockholders who sharply opposed him; he worked hard to get Tamura back in the theatre’s good graces. In accordance with this train of events, the management, acknowledging Tamura’s service in imposing order on the company, recommended that he become a board member but he firmly refused, preferring instead to have the freedom of renting the theatre out from time to time to produce his own programs. The company was happy to accept this offer. And, Ōnoya, a purveyor of Western alcoholic beverages in Izumi-chō, agreed to be a backer, making a 20,000 yen investment that allowed the March program to jointly star Danjūrō and Kikugorō.

March 6 was the next opening day, with the curtain opening at 11:00 a.m. on play number one, Hachijin Shugo no Honjō (The Protective Castle of Hachijin), by Nakamura Kaigan and Sagawa Fujita, with a newly written prologue by Fukuchi called Nue Taiji (Overcoming the Nue Monster), the special attraction. Then came the powerful Terakoya (The Village School) scene from Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami, followed by Sakura Doki Tateshi no Goshozome a.k.a. Gosho no Gorozō. During the first play’s prologue Danjūrō and Kikugorō entered simultaneously by rising on the small elevator trap. The show ended with a kiyomoto recital of Harugasami Asamagatake (Spring Haze over Asamagatake).

In Fukuchi’s play Danjūrō displayed his history play artistry, while in the closing piece Kikugorō showed his skill at domestic drama. Their joint appearance in Terakoya was a theatre fan’s dream in which each demonstrated his particular artistry, helping the production to become a huge hit. Tamura wanted to extend the run but this would have interfered with the following production’s schedule, so the Kabuki-za management declared that the show had to close on March 30, after 25 days. But, rare for the time, every performance through the last was sold out and both Tamura and Ishisada’s prestige rose when the show made a profit of 12,000 yen.  

In Terakoya’s head inspection scene, Danjūrō (as Matsuomaru) and Kikugorō’s (as Genzō) timing was perfectly in accord, creating an indescribable impression. Because of the stars’ superb, the kubijikken or “head inspection” scene was so riveting that the 6 yen 80 sen for renting a gallery (sajiki) box didn’t seem expensive at all—it was said that only five minutes’ watching of it was satisfying enough.

During this program Danjūrō played Yorimasa, Kiyomasa, Matsuomaru, and Hoshikage no Doemon, while Kikugorō portrayed Inoshishi (Boar) no Hayata, Imazu Yoshihiro, Genzō, and Gosho no Gorozō, offering audiences a chance to gaze in astonishment at a rival display of the two greatest actors of their day at the pinnacle of their artistry. On the other hand, there was one other actor who should be remembered as of equal esteem during late Meiji, Ichikawa Sadanji. But he was ensconced under his own management at the Meiji-za, where, in January, he performed Hosokawa Chidaruma (Blood-Stained Hosokawa) and Kurotegumi Sukeroku (Sukeroku and the Black Hand Gang); he wasn’t able to match his rivals’ popularity at the Kabuki-za, however. 
Ichikawa Sadanji I at the Meiji-za in Hosokawa Chidaruma.  From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
For this production, Danjūrō’s disciple Ichikawa Danshichi rose to the rank of “name” actor, becoming Ichikawa Shinjūrō. Also, Ichikawa Dankichi, son of Osaka actor Ichikawa Ichijūrō, became a disciple of Danjūrō and served as kōken (onstage assistant) in Kanjinchō. And house playwright Kawamura Taichi became Segawa Jōko IV. Finally, the Kabuki-za saw its first phone installed this month, its number being Shinbashi 427.

April also saw a Dan-Kiku partnership at the Kabuki-za, where the show opened at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th with an all-classics program: three scenes from Imoseyama Onna Teikin (“Yoshinogawa,” “Michiyuki,” and “Goten”), Kanjinchō, and Shinpan Utazaimon, each a great classic. Once again the theatre had a hit, critical and commercial. Danjūrō and Kikugorō’s Daihanji and Sadaka were of certifiable artistic quality in Imoseyama. Bandō Kakitsu’s Koganosuke also was lauded.
Ichikawa Danjūrō IX as Benkei and Onoe Kikugorō V as Togashi in Kanjinchō.  From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Onoe Ushinosuke’s (later Kikugorō VI) Omiwa in the “Michiyuki” scene of Imoseyama was transmitted to him directly from Danjūrō; he put his heart and soul into his rehearsals and was rewarded with an excellent performance. Kanjinchō gained much interest because Danjūrō was giving the last Benkei in his career while Kikugorō was doing his first Togashi. They were said to be wearing the same costumes as were worn for the famous imperial viewing of kabuki in 1887. Danjūrō was impressed by his partner's Togashi and, using Kikugorō’s private family name, praised him: “Terajima, of course, does what only Terajima does.” Danjūrō’s Benkei, though, sounded strained, he coughed, his breathing was difficult during the mondō or questioning scene, and one could feel the weakness of age during the ennen mai dance sequence.

According to Nakamura Tetsurō, in his book on the discovery of Japanese theatre by Westerners:
In April 1899 the Kabuki-za’s English-language program noted at one side, under the heading “History Drama Outline: Synopsis of the Old World Play” [the latter phrase in English], that foreign traveler S.C.F. Jackson, had seen Danjūrō’s Imoseyama “Goten” (Palace) scene after coming all the way from Bombay. Jackson, calling the actor “Great Danjūrō” (Ō-Danjūrō), wrote in his travel notes that “His acting was of the highest quality. He handled all the incidents leading to climax with true skill, with impressive actions and sonorous classical Japanese. The audience was deeply moved and many, in sympathy with the actor, wept silently along with him. When danger threatened they held their breaths, and from time to time they broke out in applause that resounded throughout the house.” (From Nakamura Tetsurō, Seiyōjin no Kabuki Hakken. The source for Jackson’s words is unclear so they’re rendered here as translated from their Japanese version.)

Nakamura goes on to quote Marshall P. Pinckney, who overcame his dwarfism to become a very popular American actor-humorist of the day. Pinckney also wrote several books, one of which, Smiling ‘Round the World (1908), recounts in charming detail his travels across the American continent and his journey to Hawaii, China, Japan, Ceylon, the Philippines, Singapore, and Italy. His chapter on “A Visit to a Japanese Theater, Tokyo” contains interesting reflections on what he saw both at the theatre and during his rickshaw trip to get there. No year is mentioned but the events seem to be around 1902, a year before Danjūrō died.

Marshall P. Pinckney on Visiting Kabuki
Nakamura cites only a few of Pinckney’s comments but I’ve quoted him more extensively (retaining his spelling) as so little is now known of them. His account must, however, be taken with at least a grain of salt. It’s not clear which play he’s describing (he observes that it’s a rare “modern” play), nor who the actors he calls “Takata” and “Sata” are, although the latter may be an abbreviation of Sadanji; he spells Danjūrō as Danjirō, whom he describes, incorrectly, as primarily a player of female roles. He also refers to the use of living trees in the scenery, which is very questionable. Further, the presence of a European orchestra come as a surprise. 
We reach the theater, quite an imposing building of stone, and alighting from our ‘rickshas enter the lobby. Quite likely the attendant will insist that we remove our shoes, but if we have a guide he can gain a concession for us.

When we enter, the play is in progress, and we realize at once that Europe or America can teach the Japanese very little about stage setting. It is a night scene, a crescent moon in the sky, and black hills in the distance, against which the lights of houses show brightly. A bridge in the center leads back over a river, and trees and shrubs that are not painted, but real and growing, are disposed naturally about the stage.

A man and a woman are on the stage, she crying, and he is trying to comfort her. Our guide explains to us that she was about to commit suicide because of the financial ruin of her husband.
The part of the woman is played by Takata, one of the greatest impersonators of women in Japan. There are no actresses, all the parts being assumed by men. This particular actor is so conscientious that, in order to retain the atmosphere of his impersonations, while at home he dresses, talks, acts, and generally comports himself as a woman would.

Danjiro, another of the most famous impersonators of women in Japan, is reported to have made up so perfectly as a girl of seventeen, when he was sixty-five years old, that when he went to his own house and asked to see Danjiro, his wife did not know him, and in a fit of jealous anger berated him for a shameless girl coming there to see her husband.

Meantime, the play goes forward. The old man, who is a relative of the girl he has saved, gives her notes of the bank of Japan for three thousand yen. Her tearful gratitude and his modest depreciation of his generosity are as fine bits of acting as may be seen on any stage in the world.
Her husband approaches and the old man runs off across the "Flowery Way," begging her not to let his charity be known.

The husband is suspicious and asks her why she was talking with that man. Her promise given, she can not answer, and after a fiery scene he spurns her and the curtain is drawn to the solemn banging of a drum and the high-pitched mournful song of some one in the distance. Each principal actor has his own curtain with his name on it, usually the gift of a number of admiring friends or of some firm that wishes to gain the advertisement. This one belongs to an actor named Sata, and has been presented to him by a large tea company. Its name is printed on one side, and “Compliments to Sata” on the other in Japanese characters of course.

Danjiro owns the finest curtain in Japan, presented to him by the Geisha of Tokyo, who each gave a hundred yen. It is of silk, embroidered as only the Japanese know how, and to see it is well worth the price of admission.

When the lights go up we can see the audience, many of the women reduced to tears by the sad plight of the unhappy young wife. The theater is the only place where custom permits any public exhibition of emotion. As women are generally supposed to enjoy nothing so much as a good cry, this privilege must be a great comfort to the Japanese female sex.

The entire lower floor of the theater is divided into little boxes about four feet square, by partitions not more than four or five inches high. About five yen are paid for these boxes, and they hold four people, who kneel on matting rugs.

The best seats are the boxes along the sides of the balcony, which also hold four people, and cost six yen. As a yen is worth fifty cents of American money, it may be seen that the prices of Japanese theaters, by comparison with those of Europe or America, are very reasonable.
Cheaper seats are to be had back of a walkway on the lower floor, and the cheapest of all are in the back part of the balcony, which compares with the gallery in an American theater.

In each box is a little stove rented from the theater. They are about six inches square and ten or twelve inches high, with a little fire of charcoal smoldering in them. These are to warm the hands by, and also for lighting pipes. Both men and women are smoking the Japanese pipe, which has a ridiculous little bowl, about as large as a fair-sized marrowfat pea, that is good for about three puffs and then has to be refilled and lighted again. Mild tobacco is used that smells and looks like burning red hair.

At this juncture our ears are assailed by the most heartrending sounds that chill the blood in our veins. It is the European orchestra! The smiling guide tells us, “European orchestra very nice Japanese people like very much!”

It is to be hoped that their ear for European music will develop with their appreciation, for at present, with the exception of the Imperial Band, and that belonging to one of the hotels in Yokohama, the orchestras and bands in Japan are things to dream about after dining on Welsh rarebit and mince pie. And even the two exceptions have many things to learn, one in particular being that rag-time coon-songs should not be played like funeral dirges. The native orchestras of samisen, drum and whistle are a positive relief in comparison. . . .

In the audience men are hurrying about with large trays containing bowls of rice, fruit and tea. The people are eating and drinking. The children, who have unlimited privileges in Japan, are running about unrebuked, even tho some of them climb on the stage and peep under the curtain.
There are many women in the audience with babies strapped on their backs, some of them mere tiny bundles of flowered stuff enwrapping babies of not more than two or three months, and tho there are numbers of these, not one is heard to cry. One wonders, are they hypnotized or drugged?
Young children are drest very gaily; the younger they are the brighter the colors, so that the babies are veritable butterflies. As they grow older the clothes become darker, until in old age they are transformed into little gray moths.

A sharp noise, made by striking two pieces of hard wood together, announces that the next act is about to begin. The intervals between acts are usually about ten minutes.

As the curtain is drawn aside, the pieces of wood tap together faster and faster, until the stage is disclosed.

This time it is a house, the front open, chrysanthemums growing about the door. At intervals the shrill note of an insect is heard. Sata, the great actor, is seated on the floor; he is in a state of intoxication, and keeps drinking from a bottle in front of him.
His father-in-law is pleading with him to grant a divorce to his daughter, as his constant intoxication and ill treatment of her are hard to bear. The drunkard refuses, and the scene between the men is a powerful one, a knowledge of the language being unnecessary in order to appreciate their really great acting.

The revolving stage, used in all Japanese theaters, is seen in this act, as the entire stage turns, bringing into view a different scene, the old man's house.

The play proceeds through several acts, to a European or American in rather a disjointed manner and without much sequence, but with no lack of fine acting.

Just before the last act the ushers bring in the sandals and clogs that have been checked, so there will be no confusion and delay when the theater is out.
But three days are allowed for rehearsal, and in that time they must be letter perfect, for a Japanese audience is a critical one. Approbation is announced by clapping the hands, but audible comments are frequent.

When we go out our ‘ricksha-men, wrapt in their rugs, hurry from the gallery where they have been enjoying the play. The orchestra and the electric lights are not the only innovations in this theater. The idea of a play of modern Japanese life is entirely new, and we were fortunate in seeing the first performance of one of the few modern plays ever enacted in Japan.

Sawamura Tanosuke IV. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
On April 4, Sawamura Tanosuke IV died at 43 while touring in Jōshū.
The Kawakami Otojirō troupe just before it left on its famous tour. Kawakami is sitting at center, Sadayakko at his right. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
On April 4, the onnagata Sawamura Tanosuke IV died at 43 while touring in Jōshū. April was also when the Kawakami Otojirō-Sadayakko troupe began its epochal, three-year tour to the U.S.A. and Europe, receiving great approval wherever they appeared. Further, the “heyday of poetry in the Meiji 30s (the 1890s)” was represented in Tsuchii (or Doi) Bansui’s (Tsuchii Rinkichi) collection of his own poems, Tenchi Ujō (Heaven and Earth Have Feelings), and the publications one after the other of poets Susukida Kyūin and Yokose Yau. Meanwhile, the poets nurtured in Masaoka Shiki’s literary magazine, Hototogisu, were rising to the fore, as in the work of haiku specialists Kawahigashi Hekigotō and Takahama Kyoshi.

In May the Boxer Rebellion erupted in China. Yokoyama Gennosuke’s important study, Nihon no Kasō Shakai (Japan’s Lower Class Society), was published this month.

June’s Kabuki-za program, which opened at 11:00 a.m. on May 26 and ran until June 12, costarred Danjūrō and Kikugorō. The first number was Uraomote Chūshingura, the second was Yoshitsune Koshigoejō, the third was Suzugamori Tsui no Mio Gui, and the closing piece was Hidari Kogatana. Compared to Kikugorō’s Kanpei, Danjūrō’s Sadakurō in Chushingura seemed old and weak; his Gotō in Koshigoejō, which used Nakamura Nakazō’s kata, was unobjectionable but before going on he downed two or three cups of sake. Kikugorō, hearing of this, said it didn’t become Danjūrō to do so and that if he drank just a single cup before entering his speech would be lively and things would go smoothly. Danjūrō and Kikugorō’s Suzugamori had no problems but the production ran only for 18 days, closing seven days earlier than anticipated.

Starting on June 20 the Nihon Sesson Katsudō Daishashin Kai (Association of Japanese Motion Pictures) used the Kabuki-za to show films from America and France in what is said to have been the first public presentation of Japanese-made movies, which included geisha dances accompanied off-screen by nagauta music and an explanation by producer Komata Yoshihiro. But this is debatable. According to the Chronology of Japanese Cinema website:
Up until recently, 20 June 1899 and Tokyo's Kabuki-za theater had been believed, originally proposed by Junichiro Tanaka, perhaps the most influential Japanese film historian, the date and place of the first public screening of Japanese-made films. Two main sources confirmed this theory. The first one is an article published in the Hochi Shinbun on 13 July 1899 advertising the screening of film actualities, featuring titles, performers and sponsors, at the Meiji-za theatre between July 14-31. This article also adds that the same show had been previously presented at the Kabuki-za. The second source is an article that appeared in the . . . Yomiuri Shinbun on 27 June carrying a short description of a film programme at the Kabuki-za which included films of dances by maiko from the Dotonbori area in Osaka. The films are believed to have been OSAKA DOTONBORI NO ZU and OSAKA MAIKO NO ODORI, both also part of the Meiji-za's programme presented a few days later.
There is, however, evidence that earlier performances might have taken places at alternative venues. Film historian and collector Yoshinobu Tsukada . . . proposes 13 June 1899 as the first exhibit of domestic films which was held at the Hongo Chuo Kaido (Hongo central church). Although there are no records of which films were shown at the Hongo Chuo Kaido between June 13-16, this date has been supported by an article appearing in the Tokyo Asahi Shinbun on 15 June which made reference to a screening of over 60 new imported American productions and the addition, for the first time, to the line-up of Japanese-made works. . . . This new date for the first exhibition of Japanese films is hardly conclusive as Manabu Ueda points to newspaper articles alluding to screenings of geisha dances before the one at Hongo Chuo Kaido.
The Kabuki-za as it looked on the day it was used to show movies. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
On June 23 kabuki actor Onoe Taganojō II had a relapse of a previous condition while performing in Kanazawa and died, aged 61. Also in June, prostitutes from the Shinonome brothels walked out on their employers, inspiring a popular song called the “Shinonome Strike.”

In July Ebisu Beer opened a beerhall in Shinbashi where one could down a half-liter for 10 sen. Customers came from afar by horse-drawn carriage and business flourished, with an average of 800 visitors said to be arriving daily. Also in July, various laws were passed protecting patents, copyrights, and trademarks.

July 15 saw the first all-bunraku puppet program at the Kabuki-za, with 33 plays performed over a period of 12 days, the programs changing daily, with a nearly full-length production (prologue through Act 9) of Chūshingura given on July 26.

Following resistance from the theatre’s ushers (dekata) the decision to rent the Kabuki-za to new theatre pioneer Ii Yōhō was delayed but the company finally opened on July 28. The program, which opened late in the afternoon, at 4:00 p.m., included Takeshiba Hyōzō’s modern drama adaptation of Watanabe Mokuzen’s novel Tsuki no Wa Sōshi (Tale of the Full Moon), which had been serialized in the Miyako Shinbun newspaper. The second play was Mata Taiheiki (Again, The Tales of the Heike). All seats on day one were 10 sen, but Ii’s attempts to drum up business flopped, and the show closed after only 17 days.

On July 14 the reconstructed Haruki-za opened again for business, with a cast including Kataoka Ichizō, Ichikawa Ennosuke, Sawamura Tosshi, and Ichikawa Otora. On the political front, a major event happened three days later, July 17, when the Western powers signed the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, agreeing to give up their extraterritoriality privileges; one of the principle things granted in return was that foreigners were permitted to purchase property in Japan wherever they pleased.

On August 24 popular children’s kabuki actor Suketakaya Kodenji, son of Sawamura Tosshi, died, aged 15.
Suketakaya Kodenji. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
The next offering at the Kabuki-za stirred up a bit of controversy in theatre circles. Yamakawa Kintarō, who later made a name for himself as producer at the Miyato-za, one of the most important minor theatres (koshibai), rented the venue with a program starring a koshibai actor named Bandō Matasaburō, who had gained a reputation in the 90s for how closely he resembled Ichikawa Danjūrō IX.
He simply looked just like Danjūrō IX. Since his stage face and his speaking were so similar to Danjūrō’s he was called the Drop-Curtain Danjūrō [minor theatres used drop curtains (donchō) in contrast to the draw curtains (hikimaku) at the majors]. Or, because you could see this Naritaya [Danjūrō’s yagō or shop name] for two sen (nisen, the equivalent of two pennies) at the Ryūsei-za, a minor theatre where he was a sell-out attraction, he was called the Tupenny Danjūrō (Nisen Danjūrō) or the Tuppeny Danshū (Danshū being a Danjūrō nickname), the word nisen also being almost a homonym for nise or “fake. 
. . .
At any rate, this drop-curtain actor appeared unexpectedly at the Kabuki-za, the stronghold of Danjūrō and Kikugorō, making a good showing in one of Danjūrō’s hit plays. This was a quite exciting and very bold venture, unheard of at the time, but theatre critics and connoisseurs, who were one-sidedly committed to Dan-Kiku, for some unknown reason remained silent and made no positive effort to comment on this problem, perhaps out of consideration for the Kabuki-za and the two great stars. (From Fujiura Tomitarō, “Nisen Danshū” in Kikan Kabuki, supplementary issue, Sōke Ichikawa Danjūrō.)

Day one was August 31 for this troupe that included Matasaburō, Ichimura Kakitsu VI (later Ichimura Uzaemon XV), and Sawamura Gennosuke IV. They opened with Taikō no Oto Chiyū no Sanryaku (The Sound of the Drum and the Secret Book of Wisdom and Courage), followed with Kamakura Sandaiki (Chronicle of Three Generations at Kamakura), then did Sato Kosode Azami no Ironui (Red-Light District Kimono: A Death Shroud for “Azami”), and closed with Yamauba (The Mountain Hag).

There had been tentative plans by the Kabuki-za managers to discuss Matasaburō’s appearance with Dan-Kiku but since it was pretty certain they’d refuse they went ahead and decided on their own. Kikugorō, on returning from a tour of Shinshu, was furious to learn that his nephew Kakitsu had joined the company of the Tuppeny Danshū without first talking it over with him, while Danjūrō, being Danjūrō, stayed at his Chigasaki villa and calmly reported that unless the stage floor was shaved and purified he’d never trod the Kabuki-za boards again. Ultimately, though the production charged the same 10 sen to everyone, was given a cheap rental rate, and  even received good notices, the company was defeated by its low status and faced poor houses, closing on September 15 after a mere 16 performances, with Yamakawa Kintarō suffering a major financial loss. 
This month Nakamura Kasen became a disciple of Onoe Kikugorō and took the name Onoe Kikujūrō.
Visit to Danjūrō's villa at Chigasaki by the Italian ambassador and his staff. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
On September 27, 7,000 workers who, in March 1898 had suffered the effects of mine pollution at Tochigi’s Ashio-Dōzan copper mine, once the greatest such mine in Japan, came to the capital to present an aid-seeking petition to the government.

The October production opened at 10:00 a.m. on September 28, celebrating 10 years since the Kabuki-za had opened; the cast was led by Dan-Kiku. The first piece was a new one by Fukuchi Ōchi. Titled Futa Omote Chūgi Kagami (Twin Faces and a Mirror of Loyalty), it was based on a familiar 1723 puppet play by Takeda Izumo called Ōtō no Miya Asahi no Yoroi (Prince Ōtō no Miya and the Armor of the Sun). Previously, in 1881, Fukuchi had written a katsureki version of the same play for the Haruki-za. The second play was the popular Hikosan Gongen Chikai no Sukedachi (He That Vowed Assistance to the Avatar of Mount Hiko) a.k.a. Keyamura Rokusuke (Rokusuke of Keya Village). The last piece was Mokuami’s Shin Sarayashiki Tsuki no Amagasa (New Mountain of Plates and the Moon Umbrella).  

The first play was panned and, in the second, Danjūrō received sour reviews as Rokusuke, a role in which he was miscast, while only Kikugorō’s Osono was praised. The management tried to create interest with an Inari Festival but, cursed by the bad reviews for Fukuchi’s play and the attacks by all the newspaper, the program endured unprecedentedly poor attendance and, rather oddly, was pulled after a mere 12 days.

The November production opened on the first, starting with Kagamiyama Chigusa no Nishiki (Mirror Mountain and the Flowering Plants Brocade). The second play, a selection from Danjūrō’s Shin Jūhachiban collection, was the dance play Momijigari (Viewing the Autumn Foliage), based by Kawatake Mokuami on the nō play of the same name, while the closer was Mokuami’s comically odd, 1867 dance play Shichiya no Kura Tamashii Irekae (The Pawnshop Warehouse and the Substitution of Souls), performed to tokiwazu and takemoto accompaniment. The show ran 25 days.

This year Danjūrō had thrice refused to play a princess role but, at Kikugorō’s urging, he agreed on such part in Momijigari in which he portrayed Princess Sarashina, in reality the Demoness of Mount Togukushi, with Kikugorō as the samurai Koremochi and young Ushinosuke (the future Kikugorō VI) as the Mountain God. According to Tamura Nariyoshi’s Zoku Zoku Kabuki Nendaiki, “Momijigari, the middle piece . . . was wonderfully sublime, with Danjūrō and Kikugorō being praised as a matchless pair and the performance becoming such a big draw it sold out day after day.”

During the run the Yokota Shōkai motion picture company spoke with Kabuki-za official Inoue Takejirō about filming Momijigari to preserve its performances for future generations. With payment to the families of both stars being privately agreed on, a stage was erected in the garden of the Bairin teahouse behind the Kabuki-za where three scenes were directed by Shibata Tsunekichi. It was a windy day (historians dispute whether it was November 28 or 30), which caused Danjūrō to drop a fan during the scene in which he dances with two of them. The film was shown first in a private viewing at Danjūrō’s home in 1900, but his dislike of movies prevented a public showing until July 1903, when, falling ill while performing in Osaka, he agreed for it to be substituted for his live performance, along with another film, Ninin Dōjōji (Two-Person Dōjōji), produced at the end of 1899 (see below). This was at Osaka’s Naka-za, where its July 7-15 run was so popular it was extended to August 1. The most complete remaining version is six minutes long, most of it is available for viewing here on YouTube. Many film historians consider it the first Japanese movie with a fictional subject. It’s also the oldest extant Japanese film. 
Scene from the film of Momijigari, with Kikugorō, left, and Danjūrō  From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
A major kabuki event took place in October, at the Meiji-za, when Matsui Shōyō's (a.k.a. Shōō) Aku Genta (Wicked Genta) was premiered. Ichikawa Sadanji had commissioned theatre critic Matsui to dramatize it from his serialized novel of that name running in the Hōchi Shinbun newspaper. Considered the first kabuki play written by an outsider--a member of the nontheatrical literati--to be produced, it incited considerable anger from the traditional playwrights, who did all they could over the next few years to obstruct such writers from joining their profession. Matsui was very grateful to Sadanji for the opportunity, especially when the actor rejected traditional playwright Kawatake Shinshichi's request, after providing stage directions for the play, to be given credit as the coauthor. Matsui went on to write other plays for Sadanji at the Meiji-za and to write for Sadanji II as well. Soon, other outsider playwrights, like Oka Onitarō and Okamoto Kidō, began to overcome objections and get their work produced. 

The last program of the year opened on at the early hour of 9:00 a.m. on December 1, with a company featuring the then middle-level actors, Nakamura Fukusuke, Ichikawa Yaozō, Ichimura Kakitsu, and Onoe Eizaburō. The bill began with a play based by Kawatake Shinshichi III on a tale by storyteller San’yutei Enchō about a well-known vendetta, Kagamigaike Misao no Matsukage. Second on the program was Onna Hachi no Ki (The Female Dwarf Tree), starring Fukusuke, with the final work starring Eizaburō and Kakitsu in the nagauta dance play Hana Kurabe Ninin Dōjōji (Flower Competition: Two-Person Dōjōji). Live narrators called benshi who explained what the screen was showing or even spoke the dialogue became popular adjuncts to Japanese silent films this year. 

Tamura, who had produced a program of Kokkei Shibai (Comical Theatre) at the Shintomi-za with lesser-known actors Kichiroku, Kantarō, and Danpachi, planned on imitating his success at the Kabuki-za, but his scheme to make money so the actors could afford expensive rice cakes for the New Year's backfired. The program, with its ghost play Onna Hachi no Ki, was too bleak and the show closed in a mere 15 days when attendance tanked. Still, it had historical significance because the Yoshizawa Shōkai company made a film (now lost) of Ninin Dōjōji, referenced above. It was hand colored and eventually shown at the Kabuki-za.

In Osaka, Benten-za actor Ichikawa Kaoru took the name Kawarazaki Gonzaburo (later Gonjuro II).

Selected Major World Events of 1899

Cuba was freed from Spanish rule; the U.S. took control of Wake Island; the British Southern Cross expedition entered the Antarctic Circle; the U.S. was victorious in the Spanish-American War; the Great Blizzard of 1899 invaded even Florida; voting machines were approved for U.S. federal elections; Edwin Sewell became the first driver of a gasoline-powered vehicle to die in an accident; a cyclone striking Bathurst Bay, Queensland, created Australia's deadliest natural disaster; aspirin was patented; Martha M. Place became the first woman to be executed in an electric chair, at Sing Sing Prison; George Dewey became Admiral of the US Navy; Guglielmo Marconi transmitted a radio signal across the English Channel; Pearl Hart, female outlaw, held up a stagecoach in Arizona; the paper clip was patented; a man nicknamed Mile-a-Minute Murphy became the first cyclist to do a mile in less than a minute; New York's newsies went on strike; the Second Boer War broke out in South Africa; Alfred Dreyfus was pardoned in France; the Bronx Zoo opened in New York; and one of the large stones at Stonehenge fell over.

Important plays that premiered included Augustus Thomas's Arizona, Clyde Fitch's Barbara Frietchie, William H. Young's dramatization of Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur, Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, William Butler Yeats's The Countess Cathleen, Gabriel D'Annunzio's La Gioconda, William Gillette's adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Henrik Ibsen's When We Dead Awaken, and George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell. The popular British musical, later produced on Broadway, also opened in 1899.

Important theatres that opened, most still operating, include the Barre Opera House, Barre, Vermont; the Glasgow Gaiety Theatre (closed in 1965), Glasgow, Scotland; the Graz Opera, Graz, Austria; the Metropolitan Opera House, Iowa Falls, Iowa; the National Theatre, Oslo, Norway; the Paradise Roof Garden (demolished in 1915), New York, situated above the Victoria Theatre (Hammerstein's), also torn down in 1915; the Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm, Sweden; the Stadttheater Meran, Meran, South Tyrol, Italy; the State Theatre Kocise, Kocise, Slovakia; and Wyndham's Theatre, London.

Cultural events included the publication of William Butler Yeats's The Wind in the Reeds; Mark Twain's "The Man that Corrupted Haddleyburg"; Polish novelist Wladyslaw Reymont's The Promised Land; Jean Sibelius's "Symphony no. 1 in E Minor"; Richard Strauss's A Hero's Life; and the commencement of Claude Monet's "Waterlillies" paintings.

Important cultural figures born in 1899 include composer Francis Poulenc, actress Eva Le Gallienne, actor-writer Goodman Ace, gangster Al Capone, author Nevil Shute, actor Ramon Novarro, composer Georges Auric, actress Gale Sondergaard, poet-novelist Jibanananda Das, writer Erich Kastner, actress Gloria Swanson, author Eric Linklater, composer-musician Duke Ellington, pianist Robert Casadesus, writer Vladimir Nabokov, animator Walter Lantz, illustrator Mary Petty, dancer-actor Fred Astaire, movie producer Irving Thalberg, composer Carlos Chavez, novelist Ernest Hemingway, novelist Kawabata Yasunari, opera singer Helen Traubel, movie director George Cukor, writer E.B. White, baseball player Waite Hoyt, actress Gertrud Berg, actress Evelyn Brent, writer Vera Caspary, movie sound engineer Douglas Shearer, conductor Eugene Ormandy, songwriter-actor Hoagy Carmichael, actress Mona Bruns, actor-playwright Noel Coward, and composer Dimitri Tiomkin. 

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