The program featured in the performance flyer is as follows.
Motomezuka is based on a play by Kan'ami and was adapted by his son, Zeami. The story is set in Ikuta, a village in Settsu Province (now Kobe City), and the titular “Motomezuka” refers to two different mounds located in Nada Ward and Higashinada Ward, both of which were in the "neighborhood" of the my childhood home. The reason for the solemn atmosphere surrounding both mounds, as if they were not to be touched, became clear when I discovered the meaning behind the legend of "Unahi no Otome (a virgin of Unai" during my visits. The "Ikuta River" mentioned in the story is located in the present-day Chuo Ward, near the Nunobikii area. Recently, when passing through Shin-Kobe Station, I observed a lively cherry blossom festival taking place. It is easy to imagine that during the time of this story, many people would have gathered to watch a bow and arrow match between two young men, perhaps even taking part in the festivities themselves.
As usual, I will borrow the explanation of "Tessenkai."
One early spring day, a group of monks (Waki and Wakitsure) arrive in the village of Ikuta, where they are greeted by a group of women (Mae-shite and Tsure) who are harvesting vegetables. The women guide the monks to a local landmark, but when the monks mention the name "Motomezuka," the women all fall silent and leave to return to their work. However, one of the women (Mae-shite) remains behind and guides the monks to Motomezuka. It is there that they discover the grave of Unahi no Otome, a young virgin who drowned herself after being caught between two men whom she loved.
The woman tells the story of Unahi no Otome in great detail and then disappears, leaving the monks to pay their respects to her grave. As they do so, the ghost of the virgin (Nochi-jite) appears before them, her body worn down by the sufferings of hell. Despite the cleansing power of Buddhist prayers, the virgin is unable to find peace, haunted by the spirits of the two men she loved and the ghost of a pair of mandarin ducks who died as a result of their conflict. The virgin's tortured spirit fades away, lost in the endless darkness.
Here is a scene description borrowed from the "Tessenkai" performance guide, which describes in detail the gruesome and cruel scene of the virgin's drowning, which was only briefly mentioned in the previous summary.
After the women (Tsure) have exited the stage, one woman (Mae-shite) remains and guides the monks to the grave of Unahi no Otome. She describes in graphic detail how the Otome, caught between two men she loved, stripped off her clothing and plunged herself into the river, screaming in agony as the cold water enveloped her body. She writhes in pain and despair, her hair wild and disheveled as she gasps for air before finally succumbing to the depths of the river. The scene is vivid and intense, a stark contrast to the serene beauty of the surrounding landscape.
- Mae-shite remains on stage alone and guides the audience to an old tomb. She speaks:
"Long ago, there were two men who loved Unahi no Otome, a virgin who lived in this village. One man was named Sasada Onoko, and the other was called Chino Masurao. Both of them loved her deeply, and it was impossible to determine which one loved her more. Their love letters arrived on the same day and at the same time. Unahi no Otome was confused. She decided to test their love by having them shoot a pair of mandarin ducks swimming in the Ikuta River. Their arrows hit the same wing of the same duck with equal accuracy..."
- Mae-shite hints at her own identity and disappears from the stage. (Intermission)
"At that moment, I thought to myself: I was the one who killed those mandarin ducks. I've reached the limit of what I can bear in this life. I might as well throw myself into the river and die. I was nothing more than a piece of flotsam in the Ikuta River, barely surviving. Then, the two men came looking for the tomb where I was buried. They killed each other in a fight, and even that became another sin for me to bear in my torment..." She speaks about her own story as if it were her own life. Mae-shite reveals her past and then disappears, hoping to find salvation.
The idea of presenting a difficult task to a suitor can be seen in various legends, such as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter and the legend of "Ono no Komachi". However, in Motomeduka, the person who presents the challenge is also subjected to punishment, making the story even more cruel. Furthermore, the punishment for that person was supposed to have been "settled" by their own death, but the suicides of the suitors prolonged the virgin's torment in hell.
Nochi-jite describes the intense suffering of hellfire, borrowed once again from the "Tessenkai" performance guide.
The virgin appears, her body tormented by the flames of hell. She had thought that her sins would be cleansed by her death, but the suicides of the two suitors only increased her torment. The virgin's spirit wanders endlessly, lost in the darkness. She writhes in agony as the flames consume her body, causing her to scream in pain. The scene is vivid and intense, a terrifying portrayal of the virgin's torment in the underworld."
As the monks mourn at the tomb, a village guy appears. He reveals the bloody background of the virgin’s life and the monk offers prayers and compassion for her.
Suddenly, a voice is heard coming from the tomb. It is the spirit of the virgin, who explains her eternal torment in the underworld due to her sins, despite her death.
The virgin thanks the monk for his prayers but soon displays her suffering from her sins. She is a mere shadow of her former self, tormented by her punishment in the underworld. She expresses gratitude for the relief the monk's prayers have given her, but her relief is only temporary.
The virgin's vision clears, but she is gripped with fear when she sees two men, her former suitors, in her hands. The spirits of the lovebirds appear in the sky, tormenting her. Flames rise from the tomb, and demons of the underworld appear. She clings to a pillar to escape the flames, but it becomes a vortex of fire.
Finally, the virgin disappears, showing her suffering and punishment in hell. She falls and struggles to get up as a demon begins to torment her. She wanders the eight great hells and descends to the depths of the underworld. Even as her torment lessens, she is consumed by darkness, loneliness, and anxiety. She returns to the fiery realm, seeking respite from her endless suffering. She walks the silent, dark road of the underworld alone.
This is an excellent commentary by Kenssei Nakano that vividly portrays the agony of the virgin. In depicting the anguish of a soul burning in the fires of hell, unable to attain enlightenment even through the prayers of a monk, Motomezuka is a masterpiece that stands alongside Akogi and Utoh.
Although I have seen Motomezuka twice, I did not fully understand the virgin's tragedy until I saw Soichiro Hayashi's portrayal of the pain, which was so realistic that it sometimes felt as if it were piercing my own skin. The performance also expressed the grief of not being able to achieve enlightenment, which was moving. Especially in the scene where she leans against the artificial mound and writhes in agony, it felt as if I could hear the virgin's voice of suffering. While Noh expresses pain somewhat abstractly, the agony of the virgin who is tortured by the two suitors, pecked by the souls of mandarin ducks, and burned by the blazing flames of the abyss, was conveyed to the viewer in a visceral way.
In that regard, it was more realistic than the ghost with a Hannya (demon) mask in Aoi no Ue. The interpretation was more contemporary, which means it had a strong power to engage and move the audience.The mask was not a demon mask like that of the Rokujyo in Aoi no Ue, nor were the clothes particularly frightening, but the weight of the suffering conveyed through the performance was palpable.
Why must a young and beautiful girl suffer so much? The absurdity of it all felt more real. The glimpse of a scale pattern on the sleeve and collar of the costume suggested that the Shite was a demonic being that was not ordinary. However, I felt that there was a hint of the author Zeami's compassion for this virgin in the fact that she did not wear a Hannya mask.
The two performers who played the companion (Tsure) were probably the sons of Sugiura and Inoue, who performed the Jikata part. They played their roles admirably. One thing that pleased me was that I was able to see the excellent Shomaru Sekine, who played the Kokata role in Eboshi Ori (DVD) I saw four years ago at the SOAS Library of the University of London. I have previously written an article about this.
The musicians were also top-notch.