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Ichikawa Ebizō V as Benkei (front) and Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Togashi in the 1840 production of Kanjinchō
|Written by||Namiki Gohei III|
|Characters||Yoshitsune, Benkei, Togashi|
|Date premiered||March 1840,
|Setting||A gate on a post road,
Belonging to the repertories of the Naritaya and Kōritaya guilds, the play was first performed in March 1840 at the Kawarazaki-za, in Edo. Ichikawa Ebizō V, Ichikawa Kuzō II, and Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII played the leading roles of Benkei, Togashi, and Yoshitsune, respectively. The lines of Ichikawa Danjūrō and Matsumoto Kōshirō have come to be particularly celebrated for playing the role of Benkei in Kanjinchō.
Though bearing the same name and general narrative concept as a 1702 play, one of the Kabuki Jūhachiban, the modern version of Kanjinchō, going back to 1840, is believed to not be directly derived from or connected to this earlier aragoto piece.
Taking place in the mid- to late 12th century, the play begins with a local noble called Togashi Saemon, who is charged with defending a particular gate along the road. He warns his men to be vigilant, for Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the great warrior of the Minamoto clan, is said to be traveling on the road, disguised as a porter.
Yoshitsune and his follower Benkei enter to music and begin to explain to Togashi that they are simple priests journeying around the northern provinces, seeking donations for the Tōdai-ji in Nara. Togashi thus asks that they prove themselves to be priests and asks for a kanjinchō, a subscription list of those who have donated already. Benkei, having been a mountain ascetic (yamabushi), is educated in traditional Buddhist teachings and has little trouble passing as a priest. But he does not have a kanjinchō; so, in a particularly famous moment in kabuki, he pulls out a blank scroll and begins reading from it as if it were a real subscription list.
Though Togashi soon gets a look at the blank sheet, he admires Benkei's skill and daring, and lets the pair pass anyway after asking a series of difficult questions about Buddhism and the life of a priest. Benkei, of course, answers these all correctly.
About to escape entirely, the pair are stopped when one of Togashi's guards notices that the porter looks like Yoshitsune. Benkei, thinking quickly, pretends that Yoshitsune is simply his personal porter and begins to beat him for arousing suspicion and causing trouble. Again, Togashi sees through the ruse, but pretends not to, on account of Benkei's devotion to his master. Continuing on past the gate, Yoshitsune thanks his friend, who apologizes for beating him and bursts into tears—for, supposedly, the first time in his adult life.
The play ends traditionally, with Benkei dancing to celebrate his triumph.
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