Miyako Odori 2012, Scene Five: Storm at the Daimotsu-no-ura Coast


Without a doubt, my favorite scene in this year's Miyako Odori is "Storm at the Daimotsu-no-ura Coast." This scene is loosely based on the Noh play FunaBenkei, which depicts another famous scene from The Tale of the Heike. The Noh play was also adapted into a kabuki play of the same name. I have never seen the Noh version of Funa Benkei (Benkei in a Boat), but I have seen several different performances of the kabuki version, including one at the Minamiza in Kyoto just eight days before I photographed this scene in Miyako Odori.

The differences between the kabuki and Miyako Odori versions are quite fascinating, especially when it comes to gender issues. The kabuki play FunaBenkei is divided into to halves. In the first half, Yoshitsune's mistress, Lady Shizuka, dances a farewell dance for Yoshitsune before he leaves on a sea voyage. In the second half, Yoshitsune's ship is attacked by the ghost of Taira no Tomomori, and only the prayers of Benkei, Yoshitsune's most loyal retainer, are able to defeat the vengeful spirit.

What makes the kabuki version of Funa Benkei so interesting is that the same actor plays Lady Shizuka in the first half and the ghost of Taira no Tomomori in the second half. As anyone familiar with Japanese culture knows, there are only male actors in kabuki. The actors who specialize in playing female roles are called onnagata, so an onnagata plays both Lady Shizuka, a female role, and the spirit of the warrior Tomomori, a male role. It takes an actor of great skill to be able to pull off both roles convincingly.

In the Miyako Odori version of the dance, Benkei does not appear at all.  Lady Shizuka, Yoshitsune, and Tomomori all do appear, but different geisha perform the roles of Shizuka and the ghostly Tomomori. Of course, all three geiko are women, so in Miyako Odori we have women playing the men's roles, and in kabuki we have men playing the women's roles.

Confused yet?

On March 31, the Natori geiko Fukue played the role of Taira no Tomomori. Fukue is one of the most talented dancers in Gion Kobu at the moment, and she is often called on to play the most challenging roles in Miyako Odori each year.