For the third installment in our ongoing series, "Beauty x Theatre: Finding Beauty in Ruin", the NNTT presents The Castle Tower. The play depicts a fantastic world through the amazing language of writer Izumi Kyoka. First published in 1917, the work has since been presented in a variety of forms, including Shimpa, or new-school theatre; film, kabuki and opera.
The play is set in Himeji, in the old province of Banshu. It is a tale of love between a beautiful female phantom who lives in the Hakuro-jo (White Heron Castle), Princess Tomi, and a gallant young falconer named Zushonosuke. Among the various plays produced by Kyoka in his mature period, which coincided with the early years of the Taisho period, this work is a perfect expression of Kyoka's unique talents. It was ardently championed by such anti-naturalist writers as Nagai Kafu and Akutagawa Ryunosuke.
This new incarnation of The Castle Tower will come to the NNTT's Playhouse in the fall of 2011. It will be directed by Shirai Akira, who has lent his thoughtful and meticulous touch to directing numerous challenging plays over his career.
The story begins in the keep of Hakuro-jo (White Heron Castle), which is the residence of the powerful Takeda Harima-no-kami. The top floor is dominated by a massive, carved wooden lion's head, and is home to a bevy of supernatural creatures. On this evening, Tomi-hime (Princess Tomi) awaits a visit from her good friend, Kame-hime (Princess Kame). Her ladies-in-waiting are frantically preparing for Kame-hime's arrival. She arrives with her entourage, and the demons enjoy themselves. Kame-hime presents a gift: the freshly severed head of a man. It is the head of Takeda Monnosuke, the brother of Harima-no-kami and lord of Inawashiro-jo. Kame-hime is about to leave when Harima-no-kami returns from a falconry outing. Kame-hime is enchanted by a white falcon, which is a prized possession of Harima-no-kami. Tomi-hime takes the form of a white heron. She flaps her wings to lure the white falcon, then captures it to present to Kame-hime as a gift.
Night falls, and Tomi-hime stands quietly alone in front of the lion's head. A young man appears, carrying a lantern. He explains that he is Zushonosuke, the falconer of Harima-no-kami. He goes on to say that he was at the point of having to commit suicide by seppuku, his offense that of losing a white falcon. Instead, he was told that he may live if he goes to the keep to search for the bird. Nobody ever goes up in the keep, out of fear of what resides within.
Tomi-hime takes an instant liking to the righteous and gallant Zushonosuke, but sends him away and warns that he must never return, as no one who comes here is allowed to leave alive. But he soon comes back—a giant bat has extinguished the flame of his lantern, and he asks if Tomi-hime can help him relight it. She is already quite fond of Zushonosuke, and does not want to let him leave. But after some hesitation, Zushonosuke chooses to go back where he came from. As a token of their meeting, Tomi-hime presents him with a helmet that is prized by Harima-no-kami.
But Zushonosuke is accused of stealing the helmet and ascends to the keep for a third time. He explains that rather than be killed for a crime he did not commit, he would rather be killed by Tomi-hime for the offense of ascending the keep. As Harima-no-kami's soldiers close in, Tomi-hime and Zushonosuke hide inside the lion's head, with their fate uncertain.