Kabuki, while being one of Japan's three great classical theatre genres, has also benefited from dramatic works written especially for it by a variety of playwrights in the modern period. These are referred to as shin kabuki or "new kabuki." Mayama Seika is one of the best-known shin kabuki playwrights, and many of the plays he wrote in the 1920s and 1930s are still performed today. He is noted for introducing dense dialogue into kabuki, but he was also a practical playwright who knew well the capabilities of the actors for whom he was writing. Yoritomo's Death focuses on the efforts of the shogun Yoriie (1182-1204) to learn the truth about how his father, the great general and first shogun Yoritomo, met his death. We the audience know, because we are told in Scene 1, and three other people close to Yoriie know, but Yoriie himself does not know. For him discovering the truth becomes an obsession, and his inability to force or persuade the three to tell him proves to him that his political and military power, clearly demonstrated at the beginning of Scene 2, is illusory. And because he has chosen to define himself as an individual by his acquisition of this piece of knowledge, it also destroys him as a person.
Asian Theatre Journal – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Mar 1, 2000