Books for Becoming Better Acquainted with Otowaya

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Toita Yasuji, Onoe Kikugoro

Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1973

The Attractions of Kikugoro VI Portrayed with a Vivid Pen

This book is a critical biography of the Onoe Kikugoro house over the generations, although more than half of the text is given over to Kikugoro VI. It presents a vivid portrayal of the attractions of Kikugoro VI in the sophisticated and witty style for which Toita Yasuji was renowned.

One of the most affecting sections of the book deals with the relationship between Kikugoro VI and Kichiemon, who was Kikugoro's rival during their years at the Ichimura-za theatre. Kikugoro expressed the spirit of rivalry in the following words: 'Being the issue of a well-known family is no guarantee that I won't get surpassed by someone like Kichiemon if I let my guard drop!' As stressed by Toita, this remark was not the product of a feeling of condescension with regard to Kichiemon and his humble origins but rather a manifestation of the sour grapes that Kikugoro felt when hearing Kichiemon so widely praised by everyone. For his part, Kichiemon felt exasperated by Kikugoro's arrogance and said that he got thoroughly fed up with working beside Kikugoro in the same theatre. On the other hand, he said how impressed he was by Kikugoro in the role of Yoshitsune in Kumagai Jinya (Kumagai's Camp), Act II of Ichi no Tani Futaba Gunki (Chronicle of the Battle of Ichi no Tani), as he calls out to the old stonemason Midaroku. Similarly, he described how the pair blended perfectly in their respective roles in Terakoya (The Village School), Act VI of Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (The Secret of Sugawara's Calligraphy), in which Kikugoro VI played the role of Matsuo and Kichiemon played the role of Sugawara's retainer Takebe Genzo. The chapter of Toita's book entitled 'Kikugoro and Kichiemon' ends with a portrayal of Kichiemon, after Kikugoro's death, looking fondly at a photograph in which the two actors are shown side by side with their cheeks touching, illustrating how close they in fact were. As well as provoking a smile on the reader's face, the description enables the reader to share the sense of desolation that Kichiemon felt at the loss of his rival. Toita Yasuji was later awarded the Naoki Prize for Literature, and the vividness of his literary style is in full evidence in this book.

The book describes the actor's accession to the name of Kikugoro VI, his early years, his years at the Ichimura-za theatre, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, his contracts with Shochiku, Japan's defeat in the Second World War, the immediate postwar era and other aspects of his life and career through the medium of the roles that he played at each stage in his career and stories that have been handed down about him. Toita was a near-contemporary of Kikugoro VI and was at school with Baiko VII, and his description of his personal memories of Kikugoro VI makes this a highly attractive book. The collection of bons mots spoken by Kikugoro VI includes all kinds of amusing and outrageous remarks that provoke pleasure and laughter in the reader.

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