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Funa Benkei Or Benkei Aboard Ship, By Kanze Nobumitsu

1486 words - 6 pages

The traditional Japanese no play, Funa Benkei or “Benkei Aboard Ship”, was written by the playwright Kanze Nobumitsu sometime during his life from 1435 till 1516. The storyline of the play follows the historical figure Minamoto no Yoshitsune just after the conclusion of the Genpei Wars of 1180-1185. The establishment of the Kamakura Shogunate, 1185-1333, was the result of a five year series of battles between the rival Minamoto and Taira families over control of the Japanese monarchy. The Minamoto victors were led by two generals, Minamoto no Yoritomo, and Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Finding it nearly impossible to fight the Taira in both Eastern and Western Japan at once, at that time as divided by the Kansai plain, the elder Yoritomo solicited the help of his younger brother Yoshitsune to face the Taira in the West as he fought in the East. Yoshitsune’s campaign against the Taira was wildly successful, but following his victory he did not receive the hero’s welcome to which he was entitled. In Funa Benkei, a “villainous rival” to Yoshitsune is responsible for slander which results in Yoritomo, now Shogun, to pursue his younger brother as a threat to his rule. Without an alternative, Yoshitsune is forced to flee for his life. (Tyler 82) (Ebrey–Walthall–Palais 184-193)
It is another man however, the warrior monk Benkei, whose name appears in the title of this play. Musashibou Benkei as a historical figure is mentioned in Azuma Kagami, “Mirror of Eastern Japan”, but is done so only briefly. Benkei is better known as the legendary and loyal retainer of Minamoto no Yoshitsune in the Heike and Gikeiki Monogatari. But in Funa Benkei, this powerful warrior monk is arguably on par in importance with his master Yoshitsune if not larger than him altogether. Benkei also seems to equal the shite Shizuka Gozen, later Taira no Tomomori, in importance within this play. Within no plays in general, it is the shite and not the waki who is what in Western Literature could be termed the main character. However, Kanze Nobumitsu as a no playwright is known for giving the role of waki unusual prominence, especially when contrasted to other playwrights such as Zeami Motokiyo. Zeami, often credited as the actor, playwright, and critic who established no as a classic theatrical art, codified the roles of waki and shite in a subordinate – superior relationship in terms of prominence in the play. (Tyler 8-9, 82-83) (Encyclopedia of Japan)
Kanze Nobumitsu, 1435-1516, was as his name suggests a member of the Kanze School of no theater in the late Muromachi Period. Fifteen of Nobumitsu’s plays are contained in the genkou kyoku repertoire, of which Ataka, Funa Benkei, Kochou, and Momijigari are some of the most popular. Nobumistu was more interested in the type of theater geki no, as opposed to mugen no. Mugen no are more dreamy or impressionistic performances focusing on yuugen (elegance, refinement), the style favored by Zeami. Geki no on the other hand...

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