The Wooden Cage
Hasegawa Shin's drama "Ori" was premiered in July 1937 in Tôkyô at the Yûrakuza with a casting mixing Kabuki and non-Kabuki actors. Nakamura Moshio IV, Bandô Minosuke VI and Nakamura Komanosuke VII played the roles of Yûchin/Goroichi, Shichibę and the daiku Gen. It was staged with a full Kabuki casting for the first time in March 1955 at the Meijiza [more details].
"Ori" was made up of 3 acts, divided into 4 scenes.
Yûchin, a blind man (mekura), has left his wife and child at home and went to different places to learn and practice the art of zatô. He made the promise that he would return within two years. Four years have already passed but the penniless Yûchin is unable to return home to his waiting wife without any money.
One night he is dozing under a pine tree not far from the Abe River ferry in the province of Suruga, when he is awakened by a scuffle taking place nearby. The thief Goma-no-Hae Yagorô had buried his loot under the pine tree, and has chosen this moonlit night to come to dig it up. But another ruffian, a rônin named Kuzurejagawa Dairoku, has come slinking by to snatch Yagorô's loot for himself. A fight between the two villains ensues in which both men come out losers and Yûchin finds himself unexpectedly in possession of an important sum of money. Disregarding how the money may have been acquired, Yûchin happily picks it up. Now, he can finally go back to his home and family.
The scene is set in Senju. Yûchin's nyôbô Otane in the meantime has been waiting fruitlessly with their little son Gorokichi for Yûchin's return. But, as years have passed away without his return, she has remarried, taking for her second husband an old friend of Yûchin named Shichibę. Now they are happy in their life together, loving each other. However, Shichibę sometimes remembers his old friend Yûchin and feels qualms of conscience, as well as a fear of what might happen should Yûchin ever return again.
One gray winter day, Shichibę remembers that it is the anniversary of Yûchin's departure from Senju and, worrying again about Yûchin's possible return, he mentions his anxiety to Otane. She answers Shichibę that she has no thought now of leaving him to be reunited with her former husband. After all, he has not returned at the promised time but deserted her, and Shichibę is perfectly within his rights in taking her for wife. Shichibę is comforted but not entirely reassured.
Later, as flurries of snow (yuki) start to fall, a furtive figure is seen drawing near the house. Shichibę notices it, and recognizes the visitor to be Yûchin. Silently, Shichibę slips away and hides himself. Yûchin enters the house and calls for Otane, who comes out hesitantly to greet him. Not aware yet of the circumstances, Yûchin feels the familiar surroundings with his hands, and asks the whereabouts of their boy Gorokichi. However, he gradually becomes aware of something distant and aloof in Otane's attitude, and his happiness is dimmed a little. He thinks that Otane is showing her resentment at having been left so long alone. He apologizes, taking out the money he had found under the pine tree near Abe River. He shows the heavy purse to Otane, and says that it is the money he has saved up during the years away from home. But Otane is not to be tempted with money. She tells Yûchin that she is now happily married to his old friend Shichibę. Yûchin is thunderstruck at the news, and, in his great disappointment, he tongue-lashes her, accusing her of weakness and infidelity. Then, he beats her for giving herself to Shichibę in exchange for food and money. He takes out the coins from his money belt and tosses them out, scattering them on the tatami of the main room. Otane takes one look at the money and is shocked because to her eyes they seem to be soiled with blood. She recoils in horror, saying that Yûchin's hands too are bloodstained. Yûchin hurriedly put away the money, and then goes away muttering and weeping into the snow, saying that it would have been better not to come back.
Act III, scene 1
Twenty years and more have passed since that fateful night. Gorokichi is now a fine young man, with a wife named Owaka. The young couple, together with Otane and Shichibę, now have a fairly large establishment in town in Kanda, the core of shitamachi in Edo, carrying out Shichibę's old trade in metalcraft with several apprentices swelling out the household.
Today is the day of the neighborhood shrine festival, and Otane and Shichibę have gone off together to visit the shrine. The other young pope of the neighborhood are all merrily taking part in the festival gaiety but Gorokichi alone is puttering away with tools, building a strange wooden cage (ori). His wife Owaka cannot understand what possible use such a cage can be put to. In answer to her queries, Gorokichi replies that it is for the purpose of confining a tiger whenever it should prove unruly. Owaka is bewildered by his seeming irrelevant answer, but before she can question him further, his friends the daiku Gen, the kazariya Kinzô, the sakan Jirohachi and the yaneya Sukeshichi come to call him to join the matsuri with them.
After their departure to the matsuri site, Gorokichi is found sitting within the cage he has just been making. He explains then to Owaka that he had made the cage for himself. He has bad drinking habits, which he himself has been unable to curb with his own will. Therefore he instructs Owaka that whenever he should become unruly under the influence of drink, as he always does, she is to lock him up in his little cage.
Owaka admonishes him, saying that if he realizes that it is wrong for him to drink so indiscriminately, he should make a stronger effort to control himself. Then she goes on to say that his parents are very worried about this bad habit of him. Shichibę in particular is aware that Gorokichi drinks out of loneliness and bitterness, longing for his true father that he has never known. As for Gorokichi, he is aware of Shichibę's fatherly love for him and is grateful, but nevertheless cannot quench his longing for the other unknown father. This is one of the reasons that drive him to drink.
Owaka tells Gorokichi that his parents, from their excessive worry over him, have decided to go on an extended pilgrimage. Remorseful at the anxiety he is causing his parents, Gorokichi promises Owaka that he will do his best to abstain from drinking in the future.
But now a friend comes running in, asking Gorokichi to come to stop a fight that has started out at the matsuri site. Owaka worries because mediation will no doubt end in a reconciliation with heavy drinking. Just as she has feared, Gorokichi comes home completely drunk, and begins to strike out in all directions as in his wont. His old parents, cowering in the face of his abusive blows, hide outside, while Owaka, undaunted by his flailing blows, struggles with him. But he forces his way out, staggering and reeling, saying that he is going out for another drink. Owaka chases after him.
Act III, scene 2
Later that night Owaka finally succeeds in bringing her husband home again, and puts him into the cage as he has requested her when he was sober. But in the meantime, the despaired parents have left the house to commit suicide, leaving behind a message telling Owaka and Gorokichi of their decision. Owaka finds the message and shouts to her encaged husband to come to his senses from his drunken sleep. When Gorokichi finally realizes what has happened, he swears that he will reform, and asks Owaka to hurry and unlock the cage so that he can go chase after his parents and catch them before it is too late. But because of their nervous excitement, the lock refuses to snap open. In a frenzy Gorokichi attacks the confining bars and breaks lose, to chase after Otane and Shichibę and set up a new, fuller bond with them in the future.
Goroichi, the cage and Owaka (a digital painting made by Shôriya Araemon in 2019)
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