A Woman's Life
Picture Credit: Official English program
English Title: A Woman's Life
Japanese Title: 白蓮記
Romanized Title: Byakurenki
Performances: Takarazuka Grand Theater, 2/1 - 2/27
Author/Director: Shirai Tetsuzou
Composer: Kawasaki Ichirou, Yamane Hisao, Irie Kaoru, Moriyasu Masaru
Choreographer: Zenitani Mitsuzou, Izuguchi Setsuko
Available on DVD: No
|Shinzaburo (later Magistrate Takayama Saemonnojo)||Furusato Akemi|
|Matsuno (Kinzaemon's wife)||Fujinami Kouko|
|Okane (midwife)||Ooji Michio (Oji Michiyo in the pamphlet)|
|Misao (Miyuki's mother)||Shiokaze Michimi|
|Manjiya Zembei (owner of the brother Manijiya)||Miyama Shigure|
|Tsunokuniya Kinzaemon||Amagi Tsukie|
|Gimpei (Shinzaburo's servant)||Sakae Miyuki|
|Komori Handayu||Koga Tsunemi|
WARNING!! MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!!
Text from the original English program.
This is the story of an ill-starred beauty in Edo (present Tokyo) about 300 years ago when Japan was governed by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Edo, the capital of the Shogunate, was enjoying the exuberance of literary blossoms which so perfumed the peaceful air under the administration of the Shogunate.
The spring is in full swing and the cherry trees are in their glory. Dancing merrily, the holiday-makers are enjoying the cherry blossoms and the sunshine for a day outside the surroundings of the city.
Miyuki, eyeful daughter of a certain "samurai" who is dead, comes to the scene of dancing, being followed by Shinzaburo who loves her and they begin to dance together.
But Shinzaburo looses sight of her in the crowd which is caught in a sudden shower. He who remains there alone stands longingly under a cherry tree....
Shinzaburo is standing under the same tree when his servant Gimpei comes to see him.
G.: "Are you waiting for Miyuki today? You waited for her yesterday and before yesterday, too."
At this, Shinzaburo replies, "I am. I made it a rule to come here and wait for her daily since we became separated from each other on that cherry-viewing day. But she has never appeared again.
"I fear that the rain which has separated us is the portent of our fate as people allegorically say: 'Rain hits the flowers!'"
Worrying about Shinzaburo, Gimpei advises him, saying:
"You are the heir of the noted Magistrate Saemonnojo Takayama, you are now disowned by your father, though.
"You should be prudent in your actions and be careful not to be enamored of a girl until you are permitted to go back to your father's house."
Yoshiwara, the red light district in Edo, was the most famous place in Japan for "Oirans" (licensed courtesans of high class). In those days, girls were often sold as prostitutes due to the poverty of their families. Those who fell to prostitution in Yoshiwara were called "birds in cage" since they were not allowed to go outside freely. Escape was strictly forbidden and "Escape" meant for the girls severe punishment and sometimes death.
Manjiya Zembei is one of those who own the licensed brothels in Yoshiwara. Zembei's brothel is called the Manjiya.
Misao, a widow of a certain "samurai" and mother of Miyuki, accompanying her daughter, calls on Zembei. The reason why she comes to see Zembei is to sell Miyuki for a prostitute. Her husband, formerly minister of a certain "Daimyo" (feudal lord), lost his position due to slander by his colleague and became a "ronin" (unemployed samurai). He died after a long illness which followed years of unemployment. The widow and her daughter were bogged into an extreme poverty plus a welter of debts.
Obtaining 80 ryo as selling-price of Miyuki from miserly Zembei, Misao gives her daughter a little image of Goddess of Mercy, saying that the tutelary deity would always defend her as long as she believes in the Goddess.
"You are going to live a life of shame," the mother says, "your present situation quite resembles snow on the road which melts to become muddy." (Her name Miyuki means "deep snow.") "But," Misao continues, "keep yourself honest and pure like white lotus which blooms as a beautiful flower even in a slough." Getting an idea from these words, Zembei christens Miyuki as Byakuren (white lotus). Thus Miyuki becomes one of the "birds in cage."
Shinzaburo who happens to pass by the Manjiya finds Miyuki and rushes to her.
S.: "I used to wait for you under the tree daily but you did not come to see me. Then, I searched about for you like a madman...." She tells him that she is now a non-freedom girl shackled by "money." Zembei says that he will sell the girl at 200 ryo. Miyuki pleads to Shinzaburo to forget her forever while Shinzaburo swears that he will open the door of the cage for her.
There is in Edo a rich merchant by the name of Tsunokuniya Kinzaemon. The merchant visits the Manjiya.
He holds a banquet which is attended by the girls of the Manjiya. During the spree, they play blindman's bluff and Kinzaemon as hoodman catches Miyuki who happens to appear at the scene. The merchant is surprised at her incomparable beauty. He asks her to dance, and while she is dancing, Shinzaburo calls at the Manjiya. He proposes to Zembei to buy Miyuki for 300 ryo while Kinzaemon insists on paying 400 ryo for her. Then, the two men begin to bid up the price but Shinzaburo suffers defeat as Kinzaemon says he will pay 1,000 ryo for the girl. Thus, Miyuki becomes Kinzaemon's concubine.
Shinzaburo who has lost the girl again is in sorrow that cannot be comforted when his servant Gimpei reaches the scene and says.
"Your disinheritance has been lifted and your brother Kazuma and your father's subordinate have come to greet you."
After six years. Being survived by his wife Matsuno, Miyuki and a son Fukumatsu who was born between him and Miyuki, Kinzaemon is already dead.
Matsuno is told by Komori Handayu, her fancy-man and subordinate of Magistrate Takayama, that: "If a widow has no child of her dead husband, a child by concubine is the heir of the family and all property of the house belongs to the child. The property of the Tsunokuniyas will be taken by Fukumatsu." Being surprised at these words and instigated bu Handayu, Matsuno decides to hatch a plot to make her dead husband's property her own.
Matsuno, according to the plot framed by Handayu, orders Miyuki to leave the house without taking her boy. But Miyuki insists she will not leave the child behind her, saying:
"So for as Kinzaemon is dead, it's not necessary for me to stay in the Tsunokuniyas. I don't want to have the property of the Tsunikuniyas but what I want to have is Fukumatsu. I'll go out from this house with my son as he needs his mother's affection."
But Matsuno strongly maintains her opinion that the child should remain in the family as he is the heir of Kinzaemon. When they are discussing the matter, the subordinates of Handayu appear as scheduled and arrest Miyuki to put her in prison.
In the dark prison, Miyuki is grieving over her infelicity: "I'm now in a black cage. I could get rid of that red cage but this time I fear I cannot get out of here. Have I to be in this black cage the rest of my life?"
And then she dreams a terrible dream.
Awakening from an evil dream in which her son appeared, Miyuki wrestles in a prayer to the Goddess of Mercy for the safety of Fukumatsu remaining at the Tsunokuniyas.
Okane, a loquacious midwife, is called up by Matsuno. Wondering what business the widow wants with a midwife, Okane comes and sees Matsuno.
Giving the midwife money amounting to 20 ryo, Matsuno demands her to perjure herself that Fukumatsu is not Miyuki's child but hers at the trial slated to be held to decide whose child he is.
Shinzaburo is now a noted magistrate by the name of Takayama Saemonnojo as he has succeeded to a house and his father's name.
"As he has succeeded to the house of Takayama, what I hope for him now is a happy marriage. But he has rejected a score of suggested brides already. On the contrary, I personally am always given the mitten by every girl whom I pop the question. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
The trial of judging the mother of Fukumatsu is held in the presence of Magistrate Takayama Saemonnojo. Miyuki is brought to the court and finds Shinzaburo as magistrate. Both are surprised at the unexpected reunion but they do not say a word.
By and by, the trial begins. Two women's testimonies are considered to be reasonable while the midwife as a witness asserts that she assisted Matsuno in bringing Fukumatsu into this world and that Matsuno is the real mother. With the conflicting testimonies it becomes hard to judge who the true mother of the boy is.
Then, struck with a capital idea, the magistrate orders Miyuki and Matsuno to pull the child at the same time, telling that the woman who win the tug-of-war will be acknowledged to be the real mother. They do as they are ordered but the boy, jerked by the two women, cries. At this, Miyuki lets go the child while Matsuno draws him toward her and triumphantly says that the child is hers.
Takayama Saemonnojo declares:
"The magistrate judges that the child is Miyuki's. She testified now that she is Fukumatsu's parent by blood. Every mother has a maternal affection toward her children and a true mother will never give the crying child a strong pull as you mercilessly did now, Matsuno."
The child is returned to Miyuki while Matsuno is arrested on the spot.
She cries to Handayu:
"Are you looking at me without a word? You agitated me, didn't you? The plot was framed by you, wasn't it?"
Then Handayu is nabbed while Okane is also arrested on charge of perjury.
Under the cherry trees in full bloom, Miyuki and her child are dancing merrily. The kid later joins a group of dancing children while Miyuki stands under a tree. Shinzaburo, or Takayama Saemonnojo, appears.
S.: "I've long been waiting for today to come. The cherry blossoms are at their best as they were on that memorable day.
"I haven't forgotten even for a moment the dream of that day nor my beloved person--you."
M.: "I wish the 'cherry blossom' was the same blossom of that day. But the 'flower' was hit by rain and became muddy."
S.: "No, you are just the same pure white lotus as was in the bygone days."
M.: "Our fates like two roads running parallel will never cross each other. I've my son now and I think you'd better make a good match suitable for your current status and lead a happy life. I'm quite happy since I could once live in your dream."
Her resolution is so firm that Shinzaburo's deep affection cannot change her mind. Thus the ill-fated lovers are separated.
- You can see some of what I believe is the original choreography/music from A Woman's Life restaged in scenes 8-11 of Flower Troupe's 1992 Dance Festival, with Kasugano Yachiyo reprising her role of Shinzaburo from the 1953 star version.
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