Bebe Taian: Shunkyo Kagami Jishi

April 20, 2011

Shunkyo Kagami Jishi

Tamasaburou Bandou V as Yayoi
A young lady-in-waiting named Yayoi lived in a castle in Edo, long, long ago. One day, she was picked to perform a Lion Dance for the shogun at the New Years' Day Parade. The Lion Dance is supposed to help drive away evil spirits with the strength of a lion. However, Yayoi was a very shy and reluctant girl, far too shy to dance- especially for such an important person, in such a prominent role. Because of this, she was locked up and told to practice carefully.

At first, Yayoi is overwhelmed. Timidly, she begins to practice, her awkward steps moving slowly. But as Yayoi becomes more comfortable and familiar, her pace quickens, her grace becoming more apparent. But as the beautiful young girl dances with the wooden shishi (lion) mask, she becomes possessed by the lion spirit residing inside the mask!

Once the lion spirit had possession of Yayoi, it became distracted by two butterfly spirits and chased after them. Finally, the image of Yayoi completely vanishes to reveal the spirit of a lion! But, losing track of the butterflies, the lion dashes for a place to rest. Playing amongst peonies, the lion gradually tires- only to be awakened by the pesky butterflies again! Angrily, he tries to catch them, shaking his body so wildly that his mane danced in the wind.

Long ago, I saw the most beautifully-made Kagami Jishi ningyo on Ebay. If only I'd had the money for it at the time! Such a soft but fierce face, it was truly made with an onnagata in mind. As a recently-made doll, I can't help but to wonder if maybe Tamasaburou himself wasn't the inspiration? Or perhaps the man who trained him? Ah, but how beautiful. I think it was the eyes that spoke to me most. Isn't that strange? A doll, with such lifelike expression. I wouldn't have been surprised if maybe that ningyo had just a little piece of a lion spirit inside of it. Even today, I think of that particular doll. No others have been like it in expression.

With the fading of April, the month of sakura and silver butterflies, I come back to this dance again and again.

"Kagami Jishi" was first made into a film, I think, in 1936. It was Yasujirou Ozu who directed it, with onnagata Kikugoro Onoe IV as Yayoi/Shishi (Lion). Traditionally, whoever plays the character of Yayoi will also play the lion. It takes very special talent and skill to do the lions' sweeping mane dance at the end, which this play is probably best-known for. It is not done by swinging the head, but rather, by swinging at the hips to properly move the mane. This dance is reportedly known as 'shishimono'- (Lion Things? not sure here). But really, the point of the 1936 film was to act as a documentary and to introduce kabuki to a wider audience.

This awesome person on Youtube posted videos of Tamasaburou dancing as Yayoi/Shishi. Don't worry if you don't speak Japanese; it is explained in English. Pay close attention to the subtle movements and expressions, and take a moment to appreciate the difficulty of wearing the heavy embroidered clothing while maintaining perfect posture and balance at all times. This is only the first video in the series; you can see them all by finding the next one in order by the numbers at the end of the titles. Please discover a love of kabuki today!

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