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Funabenkei

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Funa Benkei, or "Benkei Aboard Ship," is a fifth-category (kiri-nô) Noh play by Kanze Nobumitsu in which Benkei, helping Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Shizuka Gozen escape from the forces of Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo, is attacked by the angry spirit of Taira no Tomomori, who died at the Battle of Dan no Ura.

The play is based more directly on the Gikeiki ("Chronicle of Yoshitsune") than on the Heike monogatari ("Tale of Heike"), and is set after Yoshitsune's great victories as a general in the Genpei War. Like Ataka and other plays also based on the Gikeiki and set during this period of Yoshitsune's life, Yoshitsune is portrayed as the boy Ushiwakamaru, and not as the accomplished adult he would have been at that time. Another interesting feature of the play is that the same shite actor plays two very different parts in the first and second acts: the lady Shizuka, and the ghost of the samurai Tomomori. The play diverges from the Gikeiki in terms of the plot, as well, having Shizuka sent away, to return to the capital, rather than traveling with Yoshitsune and Benkei, as she does in various other stories and plays.

Characters

  • Benkei (waki)
  • Yoshitsune (kokata)
  • Two or three other samurai (wakitsure)
  • Boatman (ai-kyôgen)
  • Shizuka (maeshite)
  • Tomomori (nochijite)

Plot

The play opens with the group traveling to Daimotsu, a harbor near Osaka. There, Benkei (waki) speaks with a boatman (ai) and arranges for passage to the west. Convinced by Benkei to remain behind, Shizuka (shite) dons a shirabyôshi outfit and dances on shore, while saying farewell to Benkei and Yoshitsune, who depart, marking the end of Act One.

During the intermission, Benkei and Yoshitsune speak with the boatman about leaving Shizuka behind, and a warrior, speaking on Yoshitsune's behalf, says he would rather stay behind, the waves being so high. Benkei convinces him to stay aboard, and they push off.

In the second Act, a storm rises, and Tomomori (shite) emerges, an angry spirit set on killing Yoshitsune. He dances a mai-bataraki (combat dance), threatening and crossing swords with Yoshitsune (kokata), and eventually being driven away by Benkei's praying and rubbing of prayer beads. In some variations, the play ends with Tomomori leaping into the air and landing in a kneeling position, then rising and stamping a final beat; in others, he simply exits.

References

  • Royall Tyler, Japanese Nô Dramas, Penguin Classics (1992), 82-95.
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