Introductory Guides to Historical Recordings

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#Note: Recordings introduced in this guide are available for listening at the NDL and the Rekion partner libraries.



"Listening" Drama ―Kabuki, Shinpa-geki (New School of Drama), Shin-kokugeki (New National Drama), Drama based on films, Otogi kageki (Fairy Opera)―

Hidenori ONISHI

Kyoto City University of Arts
Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music


 One might think that dramas are performances one watches, not listens to. Undoubtedly, when one steps foot inside a theater to see kabuki or a musical, one does not normally think of making a point of closing one's eyes and listening to the sounds performed on the stage. In the age before television, however, people listened to the dialog and recitation of drama emanating from the phonograph and the radio. "Listening Drama", which cannot be captured by sight, calls up a variety of images in the heads of individual listeners, which on many occasions can be more moving than sight. On "Historical Recordings Collection" (hereafter,"Rekion"), a number of "moving sources" have been collected that remain of celebrated actors of the past one can become acquainted with only by sound. I would like to introduce you to a few of them here.

(Images provided by Hidenori ONISHI)

1 The Kabuki Play, Yuki no Yuube iriya no Azemichi, "Naozamurai" (Naozamurai and Michitose "Naozamurai")) (1) - (4)/ Ichimura Uzaemon XV , Onoe Matsusuke IV, et al: Nipponophone, November 1921, Record Number 4561-4564

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 It is impossible to talk about kabuki records and leave out Uzaemon. Ichimura Uzaemon XV (1874-1945) was a popular actor who kept enchanting spectators with his flamboyant, striking stage presence and crisp delivery. Though he left more records than any other performer in the kabuki world, this Nipponophone "Kabuki Record" series was a late debut for a first recording. "Kiri Hitoha (A Paulownia Leaf)", "Edo Sodachi Omatsuri Sashichi (Edo Raised Omatsuri-Sashichi)", and "Yowa Nasake Ukina no Yokogushi(Otomi and Yosaburō)" were released simultaneous to that series and in January the following year, "Iseondo Koi no Netaba (The Bloodthirsty Sword)", "Hitotsuya (the Solitary House)", and "Izayoi Seishin (The Love of Izayoi and Seishin)" were put on the market. Though it is ever regrettable that the sound level in those recordings was faint and the dialog difficult to discern, just being able to listen to Onoe Baikō VI (1870-1934) and Onoe Matsusuke IV (1843-1928) performing together has a charm all its own. Almost all of them have never been re-released up to now, perhaps due to the acoustic sound from not using microphones, however, the fact that you can listen to them all on "Rekion" is really something to be thankful for.

→Listen to the kabuki play, Yuki no Yuubeiriya no Azemichi, "Naozamurai" (Sobaya Kaeshi Iriya Tanbo no ba) [In-library-only audio material]

Ichimura Uzaemon XV

Ichimura Uzaemon XV as Naojirō Kataoka in 'Naozamurai'.
"Geki to Eiga" (Theater and Film) 1927, no. 4

Onoe Baikō VI

Onoe Baikō VI (Right) - Onoe Baikō's days as Eizaburō (Right) and Uzaemon Ichimura's days as Bandō Kakitsu (Left) "Ninin Dōjōji" (The Two Maidens at Dōjōji)
"Geki to Eiga" (Theater and Film) 1925, vol.2, no.1

Onoe Matsusuke IV

Onoe Matsusuke IV in the Genjiyadana scene in "Yowa Nasake Ukina no Yokogushi" as Kōmoriyasu (Yasu "the Bat", for the bat tattoo on his cheek).
"Geki to Eiga" (Theater and Film) 1928, vol.5, and no.8

2 The Play, "Futatsu Chōchō Kuruwa Nikki (Two Butterflies in the Pleasure Quarters) - Hiki Mado (Sliding Window)" (Vol. 1)(Vol. 2)/ Jitsukawa Enjaku II, Nakamura Kaisha, Asao Daikichi III: Nipponophone, December 1930, Record Number 17666

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 In contrast to the Edo kabuki in Selection (1) above, this is a famous recording of Kamigata kabuki (kabuki in the Kyoto and Osaka style). Jitsukawa Enjaku II (1877-1951) was a celebrated actor who along with Nakamura Ganjirō I (1860-1935) supported modern Kamigata kabuki. As a master of an extremely wide range of techniques, especially his performance of wagoto (The "wagoto" or "gentle" style is a relatively subtle, realistic kabuki style originating in Kamigata (Osaka and Kyoto) and features plot, character, and dialogue in tales of romance. It differs from the "aragato" or "rough" style which originated in Edo and features action and spectacle in heroic and historical tales involving warriors, villains, demons, and gods. ) in the Kamigata kyogen style, he proved a hard act to follow. He has performed as Nanpō Jūjibei of "Hiki Mado" since the period of Enjirō. In this record, it is a pleasure to hear his flowing delivery of "Kitsunegawa wo hidari ni tori--"(Taking Kitsune River on the left side....) Nakamura Kaisha (1875-1945) as Ohaya was also an acclaim-winning role.
 "Rekion" has collected three versions of "Hiki Mado" including this Nipponophone disc as well as re-releases by Regal Records and Hikoki Records. While the content is identical, the original discs each differ.

→Listen to "Futatsu Chōchō Kuruwa Nikki, Hiki Mado" [In-library-only audio material]

3 The Kabuki Play, "Kuruma Biki" (The Quarrel Over the Carriage) (1) - (4)/ Bandō Hikosaburō VI, Bandō Mitsugorō VII, Ichimura Kamezō III, and musical accompanists: Polydor, September 1930, Record Number 5004-5005

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 With its colorful costumes, makeup, and showy poses, the "Kuruma Biki" scene from "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami" is steeped in the essence of kabuki. While the record does not convey that kind of visual appeal, even one who has watched a modicum of kabuki can conjure up an ample image of the stage when one hears the musical accompaniment or the sound of the tsuke-uchi (wooden blocks) signaling the mie (dramatic, show stopping pose associated with kabuki). Bandō Mitsugorō VII (1882-1961) was called a "god of dance", yet, on the other hand, he had difficulty with his elocution. The forceful speech of Ume Ōmaru on this record, however, are magnificent. While there are six different 78 rpm records of "Kuruma Biki", I highly recommend this version.

→Listen to the kabuki play, "Kuruma Biki" [In-library-only audio material]

Reference photo:

Reference photo: "Kuruma Biki" on a set stage Koshirō as Ume Ōmaru, Chūsha as Matsu Ōmaru, Ganjirō as Sakura Maru――(Osaka Nakaza Theater)
(Theater and Cinema) 1926, vol. 3, no. 3

4 The Kabuki Play, Kanjinchō (The Subscription List) (1) - (18)/ Matsumoto Kōshirō VII, Ichimura Uzaemon XV, Kataoka Nizaemon XII, Kineya Rokuzaemon, Kineya Sakichi, Yoshimura Ishirō, Kineya Eizō, and Mochizuki Tazaemon, company members: Nitchiku, recorded on April 27, 1943. Record Number A-20062-A-20070

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 Eighteen 12 inch discs were recorded on April 27, 1943 for broadcast on the evening of the twenty-ninth that same month (The Emperor's Birthday). All of the actors, chanters, and musicians were no doubt nervous wrecks because it was the Emperor's birthday celebration program. A recording of all the songs to "Kanjinchō" on Victor Records(December 1940 release) is widely known today (also collected by "Rekion"), and while the cast is identical to these Nitchiku recordings, the nagauta (chanting to shamisen accompaniment) is enhanced in this version. While Uzaemon's delivery has declined with age, he makes up for it with his ardor. Nevertheless, one may never encounter this kind of performance in a lifetime. Though this is a record that is not generally on sale and few people are familiar with you can listen to it on "Rekion".

→Listen to the kabuki play "Kanjincho" [In-library-only audio material]

5 Shinpa Karyū Kōdan (The story of Geisha districts) Futasujimichi (Forked Road)/ Seto Eiichi (Writer), Kitamura Rokurō, Kawai Takeo, Kasuga Toyoki (chanter), Kasuga Toyoharu (shamisen), Musical Accompanists: King (prewar) October 1936, Record Number 12002-12003

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 Shinpa (New School) was a name attached to drama to signify a new theater in the Meiji period in contrast to the kabuki (Kyūha or "Old School") from the Edo period. Thus, in the beginning, it indicated performance other than kabuki, and eventually the genre called "Shinpa-geki" (New School Play) was established which ultimately culminated in modern day the Gekidan Shinpa (the Shinpa Theater Company). There are many plays in which the main characters are inhabitants of modern day "hanamachi" (Literally, "flower towns") or Geisha districts of Tokyo. Though the Shinpa employed the same type of onnagata (male actors who impersonate women) in women's roles, this version of "Futasujimichi" showcases the artistic achievements of famed Shinpa onnagata actors, Kitamura Rokurō (1871-1961) and Takeo Kawai (1877-1942). Unfortunately, only three discs out of the full four disc set have been collected on "Rekion". They are, nevertheless, well worth a listen. I would also recommend that you listen to Kitamura's "Onna Keizu Yushima Tenjin no Ba" as a famous recording of the Shinpa school.

→Listen to "Shinpa Karyū Kōdan Futasujimichi" [In-library-only audio material]

6 The Play, "Shishi ni Kuwareru Onna" (The Woman Eaten by a Lion" (1) -(4)/ Nakamura Kichizō (Writer), Mizutani Yaeko, Yanagi Eijirō, Miyajima Fumio, Geijutsu-za Music Department Members: Nipponophone, October 1929, Record Number 17323-17324

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 This is a social drama by playwright and theatrical arts researcher, Nakamura Kichizō (1877-1941). This is an early recording of Mizutani Yaeko (1905-1979). Mizutani was a major actress who supported the Shinpa school after the war, but she got her start as an actress through her brother-in-law Mizutani Chikushi's connection with the Shingeki (New Drama) "Geijutsu-za" (Art Theater Company). Though fate trifles with Hanakowho plays a star lion tamer on this record, she would go on to perform many other leading roles of differing types including Shira Ito in "Taki no Shira Ito (Cascading White Threads/The Water Magician)", Oseki in "Jūsan'ya (The Thirteenth Night)", and Osetsu in "Fūryū Fukagawa Uta (Song of the Refined Fuka River)".Here, her performance is fresh with youth. This is also valuable as a source material of Shingeki from the early Shōwa period.

→Listen to the play, "Shishi ni Kuwareru Onna" [In-library-only audio material]

Mizutani Yaeko I

Mizutani Yaeko I as the Hanako the Juggler in "Shishi ni Kuwareru Onna".
"Geki to Eiga" (Theater and Film) 1927, vol.5, no.4

Mizutani Yaeko I

Mizutani Yaeko I as the Hananko the Dancer in "Kyūkancho".
"Shibai to Kinema"(Theater and Cinema) 1927, vol.4, no.1

7 The Play, "Shirano Benjurō" (1) - (6)/ Sawada Shojiro, Hisamatsu Kiyoko, Nakai Tetsu, Minami Kichitarō, Futaba Sanae, and the Shin-kokugeki (New National Drama) Musical Accompanists: Victor (prewar), June 1928, Product Number 50345-50347

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 This is an adaptation of "Cyrano de Bergerac" by Nukada Roppuku (Translated by Kusuyama Masao) for Sawada Shōjirō (1892-1929) of the Shin-kokugeki (New National Drama). The setting was relocated to Japan in the late Edo to Meiji period. Though Shinkokugeki was poised as an intermediate between kabuki, Shinpa, and Shingeki and launched in 1917, later, the realistic fighting of its battle-royale dramas won the zealous support of the masses. While the point of departure for Sawada's play was Tsubouchi Shoyō's Literary Arts Society Drama Research Institute, it later arrived at Shin-kokugeki through the Geijutsu-za. When you listen to this recording you can sense the affinities in artistic bent with that of Mizutani in Selection [6]. Other records by Sawada collected by "Rekion" include "Tomioka Sensei" and among his later Shin-kokugeki plays, "Sākasu no Musume" (Circus Girl), "Kutsukake Tokijirō", "Jinsei Gekijo (Zankyō-hen)", "Mabuta no Haha" (Mother Under My Eyelids), "(Seinan Kesshi) Furusato no Yama " ((Seinan Kesshi) The Mountains Back Home).

→Listen to the play "Shirano Benjuro" [In-library-only audio material]

8 Film Drama, "Sendō Kouta (Karesusuki geki)" (Ferryman's Ballad - I am withered) (1) - (6)/ Kurishima Sumiko, Kurishima Sagoromo, Katsuragi Fumiko: Orient, July 1923, Record Number 2586-2588

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 In the age of the silent picture, audiences were not familiar with the voices of the actors. Beginning in 1912, however, eiga-geki (film drama) records began to be made by the film performers. This is the debut record of Kurishima Sumiko (1902-1987), a big star for Shōchiku Kamata Studios at the time. "Hello, everyone. I always see you from the world of shadows inside the silver screen, but starting today, I'll be saying hello from the world of elegant voices." It is said that this introduction and summary of the plot on Disc 6, Side, 1, by Kurishima, herself, made it known that movie stars voices would be revealed and made news headlines. In addition to this, many other eiga-geki records have been collected "Rekion", including "Kago no Tori" (Caged Bird),"Yamanaka Kouta" (Yamanaka Ballad), "Konjiki Yasha" (The Usurer), and "Fūfu" (Husband and Wife).

→Listen to Sendō Kouta (Karesusuki geki). [In-library-only audio material]

9 The Fairy Tale Opera, "Menashi Daruma" (The Daruma Doll with No Eyes) (I) (II)/ Sassa Kōka (Writer), Okuyama Teikichi (Composer), Futamura Teiichi, Iijima Ayako, Other Performer: Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd. Japanese-Western Ensemble (prewar), January 1932, Record Number 26676

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 This is a musical that opens with two young girls playing and singing a ballad when a Daruma doll starts to talk to them from a top a shelf. This is a work first brought into the world by hit-maker Sassa Kōka (1886-1961), known for such ballads as "Kimi Koi shi" (I Love You), "Naniwa Kouta" (Naniwa Ballad), and "Gion Kouta" (Gion Ballad), in the age of Tokyo Phonograph Company Literary Arts Division. This work is also said to be inspired by Motoori Nagayo's "Daruma-san" . Its heartwarming sense of humor and lively pacing are enjoyable to adults as well. Aspects like closing the song with uproarious laughter brings to mind the Asakusa Opera with which Sassa was later closely involved. This recording is a remake of the Taishō period Tokyo Phonograph Company version, so the latter half has been considerably reworked. Similarly, I highly recommend that you also listen to Sassa's hits "Chameko no Ichi Nichi" (Chameko's Day) and "Marichan no Ehon" (Marichan's Picture Book).

→Listen to the fairy tale opera, "Menashi Daruma" [In-library-only audio material]

Reference Materials

  • Onishi Hidenori. Kabuki SP Rekōdo Diskogurafui (senzenhen miteikō) ((Kabuki 78rpm Record Discography (prewar, unfinished manuscript)). Kabukikenkyū to hihyō (Kabuki Research and Criticism).2007.38. pp. 29-67
  • Tōkyō Asahi Shinbun (Tokyo Asahi Newspaper). April 29, 1943.
  • Marui Fujio, Chief ed. Sozo Iwai, Ed. Shinpa hyakunen haiyu kagami (One Hundred Years of Shinpa Actors ). Shikahon (self-published). 1990.
  • Onishi Hidenori. Shinpa SP Rekōdo Diskogurafui (miteikō) ((Shinpa 78rpm Record Discography (unfinished manuscript)). Kabukikenkyū to hihyō (Kabuki Research and Criticism). 2009.43. pp. 53-74
  • Sawada, Shojirō. Kutou no ato (The Scars of Struggle). Ryūa Shobō. 1928. pp. 117-118
  • Kurata, Yoshihiro. Nihon rekōdo bunkashi (A Cultural History of the Japanese Record). Tōkyō Shoseki. 1979, pp. 244-245, 303
  • Kiyoshima, Toshisuke. Nihon myūjikaru kotohajime (The Beginnings of the Japanese Musical). Kankosha. 1982, pp. 21-30

Hidenori ONISHI, Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts

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