Written by Senryu Namiki and Shoraku Miyoshi, this play dealing with the struggle for power between the Genji and Heike Clans was first staged at the Takemotoza Theatre in 1749.
Suemune, a Heike clansman, visits the Imperial Palace as a messenger from Kiyomori, head of the Heike Clan, to offer the Emperor the severed head of the Genji general Yoshitomo and a white banner of the Genji Clan captured by Heike warriors.
Neritada, a court noble sympathetic with the Genji Clan, tells the messenger to bury the head with due respect. After Suemune's withdrawal, Emperor Goshirakawa calls Yoshikata, Yoshitomo's younger brother, and presents him with the white banner, advising him to raise an army anew to take his revenge on the Heike Clan.
At this moment an unexpected visit by Kiyomori is announced and the Emperor retires to his curtained throne. Kiyomori tries to proceed to the throne but is detained by Yoshikata, who declares that Kiyomori is not high enough in his court rank to be granted an audience with the Emperor.
As Kiyomori and Yoshikata start fighting Naritada mediates and asks Kiyomori what he wishes to tell the Emperor. Kiyomori says that he wants to protest against the Imperial command to bury Yoshitomo'e head honorably instead of gibbeting it. He also demands that the white banner be returned to him. Naritada tells him that the banner has been burned by Imperial order.
Angry at what he believes to be a downright lie, Kiyomori tries to run up the stairs leading to the throne when the curtain covering the throne is raised, and the Emperor, red with anger, glares at him, causing him to fall in trepidation. Kiyomori declares that he will retaliate by confining the Emperor to his Toba palace.
By order of Kiyomori, who has been told by a goddess in a dream that the fortune of the Heike Clan will be told by the witch living at the bottom of the Nunobiki Waterfall, Tsunetoshi comes to the front of the waterfall. Shigemori, Kiyomori's son, also arrives, accompanied by Nagatsune, to observe Tsunetoshi's adventure.
Soon after Tsunetoshi has dived into the waterfall basin an arrow apparently aimed at Shigemori swishes past him. Retainers of Shigemori soon arrest the archer and bring him to Shigemori. Nagatsune says that the would-be assassin is Yukitsuna, a Genji warrior disguising himself as a hunter, but Shigemori magnanimously frees him.
Presently Tsunetoshi comes back from the bottom of the waterfall basin to report that the witch is very angry at Kiyomori's arrogance. No sooner has he finished reporting than a tremendous thunderstorm occurs—probably an indication that the witch is displeased with Tsunetoshi's disclosure of her confidential statement.
Yoshikata is living in his Kyoto mansion with Aoi-Gozen, his wife who is now pregnant, Matsuyoi his daughter by his former marriage, and Orihei, his servant with whom Matsuyoi is in love.
While Orihei is out on an errand, Kurosuke, a farmer, visits the mansion with Koman, his adopted daughter, and Tarokichi, her son. Kurosuke tells Aoi-Gozen that Koman and Tarokichi are respectively Orihei's long-separated wife and son. He and Koman ask Aoi-Gozen to relieve Orihei from his service to enable him to live with his family. Matsuyoi is shocked to learn that Orihei is married. Advised by Aoi-Gozen not to show any sign of anger, however, Matsuyoi calmly shows the visitors to the waiting room.
Matsuyoi to go to an inner room and asks Orihei about the result of his mission, which was to locate the house of a Genji warrior named Yukitsuna and deliver Yoshikata's letter to him. Orihei says that that he could not find the house and returns to Yoshikata a box containing his letter, Yoshikata notices, however, that the box is unsealed—apparently an indication that someone has read the letter.
Ever since Yoshikata employed Orihei as his servant, he has been suspecting that he is in fact Yukitsuna. When he sent Orihei on the errand to "Yukitsuna's house" he was fully aware that there is no such house. The errand was merely his device to confirm that Orihei is none other than Yukitsuna. It was "Orihei" that read the letter addressed to Yukitsuna.
Asked about his identity. "Orihei" admits to Toshikata that he is indeed Yukitsuna. While the two warriors are discussing how to take their revenge on the Heike Clan, Nagetsune and Suemune visit the house as Kiyomori's messengers to ask whether Yoshikata has the white banner of the Genji which Kiyomori has presented to the Emperor. As Yoshikata denies any knowledge of the white banner, Suemune, commanded by Nagatsune, takes Yoshitomo's skull out of a box and orders Yoshikata to kick it as a proof of his loyalty to Kiyomori.
In a subsequent fight Yoshikata throws Suemune and Nagetsune. When Yukitsuna joins the fight by drawing his sword Nagatsune flees helter-skelter. Suemune is, however, killed by Yukitsuna., who beats his head with Yoshitomo's skull to crush it to pieces.
At Yoshikata's suggestion, Yukitsuna and Matsuyoi leave for the Toba palace to rescue the confined Emperor. Soon a Heike unit headed by Munemasa appears to attack Yoshikata. Yoshikata delivers the white banner to Aoi-Gozen and advises her to flee, but Heinai, Munemasa's retainer, wrests the banner from her. Yoshikata recovers it from Heinai and subdues Heinai and his comrade Gunzo. After Kurosuke has fled with Aoi-Gozen and Tarokichi to safety, Yoshikata hands the banner to Koman and asks her to follow them.
In a desperate effort to arrest Yoshikata, Munemasa holds him from behind. Yoshikata, who has made up his mind to kill himself, thrusts his sword so deeply into his abdomen that the sword pierces Munemase's abdomen as well.
Carrying the white banner concealed in her kimono, Koman arrives at the beach of Yabase Bay in Lake Biwa when Chuta and other Heike warriors overtake her and try to wrest the banner from her. Koman valiantly fights them off with a show of manlike strength but at last it seems impossible for her to resist the attack any longer. So she jumps into the lake in order to prevent the banner from falling into enemy hands.
Returning from a visit to the shrine on Chikubu Island on Lake Biwa, Munemori, son of the head of the Heike Clan, is on board a boat heading for the Shiga beach. Beside him is Saemon, one of his retainers.
Another vessel carrying Sanemori, a Heike general, approaches and Sanemori calls his greetings to Munemori. Munemori and Saemon invite Sanemori on board their cum boat and the three exchange cups of sake.
While they are drinking, Sanemori notices a young woman swimming toward them but on the point of exhaustion and likely to drown. With the aid of the sailors Sanemori catches hold of her and draws her on board.
When she has recovered her voice the girl thanks her rescuers and says that her name is Koman. This means nothing to Sanemori, but when he reveals his own identity as one of the Heike clansmen, Koman, wife of a Genji clansman, is desperate at finding herself in the hands of her enemies. In fact, she was escaping from some other Heike clansmen when rescued by Sanemori and now her pursuers come up to the boat in their own small craft. They call out to Munemori that she escaped from them when they tried to wrest from her the white banner of the Genji, which, tightly furled, she still has in her hand.
Saemon turns quickly and tries to take the banner but Koman holds it high above her head, determined that it shall never fall Into enemy hands. Sanemori slashes at her with his sword and her severed arm, still clutching the banner, falls into the waters of the lake, followed by the lifeless body of the noble woman.
Koman’s adoptive parents, Kurosuke and Koyoshi, and her son Tarokichi live at Onohara village near Lake Biwa where Koman has just died in defense of the banner of the Genii Clan to whose cause Kurosuke and his wife are also devoted.
Koyoshi is spinning cotton thread and Kurosuke is away fishing together with Tarokichi. Nisota, Kurosuke's nephew, enters and begins to question Koyoshi on the presence in the house of a woman whom Kurosuke has recently brought to Onohara from Kyoto. Nisota says he believes the woman to be Lady Aoi-Gozen, widow of the late Genji general, Yoshikata.
Koyoshi knows that this is the tee identity of the woman but, knowing that Nisota may betray her, tells him that he is talking nonsense and that the woman is simply a mistress of her husband’s whom he has got with child and brought to his house for safe childbirth. Nisota laughs at this story and leaves, as he is sure that the stranger is really Aoi-Gozen.
When Nisota has gone Aoi-Gozen appears. She is, in fact, pregnant with the child of her late husband and her time is very near. She asks whether Koman has yet returned home, and a moment later Kurosuke returns from his fishing together with Tarokichi.
Tarokichi is excited at a strange catch they have made and shows his grandmother a woman’s severed arm wrapped in the fishing net. The arm is, of course, that of Koman and the furled Genji banner is still tightly clasped in the dead hand.
Both old Kurosuke and Aoi-Gozen try to prize the banner from the rigid fingers but in vain. However, when Tarokichi makes an attempt the fingers open immediately am the banner is released.
Aoi-Gozen now can recognize it as the Genii banner, long treasure of her family and simultaneously she, together with the farmer and his wife, realizes that the arm must that of Koman and the she has died to save it.
At this moment a neighbor runs in to warn Kurosuke that two Heike warriors are coming to search his house. Knowing that the Heike are determined to rid themselves of all possible leaders of a resurgent Genji opposition and that Aoi-Gozen and her unborn child will be among their principal targets, Kurosuke tells his wife to hide Aoi-Gozen and young Tarokichi in another room.
The two Heike warriors who now appear are Sanemori (the man who cut off Koman’s arm) and Seno-o. Nisota has, after all, betrayed Aoi-Gozen to them and Seno-o tells Kurosuke that concealment is useless. Sanemori adds that their mission is not to kill Aoi-Gozen but that they have been ordered to kill all men, boys or even male babies of the leaders of the Genji. Believing the baby to have already been born, they demand to see whether it is a boy or a girl. Kurosuke begs them to leave Aoi-Gozen in peace a little longer. Her baby will be born before the month is out.
Seno-o refuses to hear Kurosuke's pleas and says that if the child is not yet born then he is ordered to kill the mother and Sanemori is to check the child yet within her. Kurosuke is horrified at the thought of such butchery but before he can plead further Koyoshi calls from within that Aoi-Gozen is now in labor. Kurosuke moves to join his wife but is prevented by Seno-o. K
Koyoshi enters carrying a bundle wrapped in brocade. Kurosuke in anguish asks if it is a boy. When Koyoshi does not answer, Seno-o tells her to take it to Sanemori who is charged with the infant’s death if it should be male. Koyoshi silently obeys. When Sanemori unfolds the wrapper he is astounded to find in it a human arm.
Seno-o is incredulous and furious at what he takes to be blatant deception. Koyoshi, however, maintains with tears that Aoi-Gozen has in fact been delivered of this monstrous birth, and she receives unexpected support from Sanemori. He refers to the Chinese princess who, having clasped, during her pregnancy in the heat of summer, an iron pillar in the palace to cool herself, was delivered not of a child but an iron ball. Presumably Aoi-Gozen had much massage during her own pregnancy and, by analogy, has now been delivered of an arm.
Sanernori says that he is so convinced of the truth of Koyoshi’s story of the birth that Onohara village shall henceforth be known as Teharami-mura (literally, Arm Conception Village). Seno-o cannot understand why Sanemori should be so credulous and leaves, saying that he will report the whole matter and that Sanemori must beat the responsibility. His own doubts yet remain and though he pretends to hurry away from the house Seno-o hides in a grove nearby to watch what happens when the family feels free of his presence.
Inside the house Aoi-Gozen appears to thank Sanemori for his mysterious support of their desperate plan that they thought had so slim a chance of success. Sanemori reveals that he was originally a Genji man but that for several reasons he has had to fight on the Heike side during the war.
He says he is sure that the arm is the one he himself severed from the woman he saved from drowning in Lake Biwa, but at the time she had held a white banner. Aoi-Gozen says that she now holds that banner. Kurosuke and Koyoshi cry out against the murder of their adopted daughter and Tarokichi learns with shock of his mother's death.
Sanemori now tells them all that happened on the boat and how the noble Koman met her death. When Koman declared that she would die rather than let the enemies of her clan take the banner with which all prospects of Genji fortunes were bound up, Sanemori, torn between his present allegiance to the Heike and his old bond to the Genji, struck off her arm so that the banner might never be held by his own side and so bring whom the downfall of the Genji. It can now be understood why only for Tarokichi, her own son, would Koman’s dead fingers open to release the white banner.
Some fishermen bear in the body of Koman which they have found on the shore. To dignify the mutilated corpse Sanemori places the banner once again in thre band of the severed arm and places the arm against Koman's body. Miraculously the body and arm are reunited and life comes back to the corpse.
In a faint voice Koman asks if the banner is safe. Aoi-Gozen reassures her that it was preserved from the Heike and Koman begins to say something meant for Tarokichi. But before she can tell him what she wishes Koman falls back, lifeless.
Kurosuke, however, is able to reveal what he knows she wished to say. Tarokichi must now know that Koman is not the real daughter of Kurosuke and Koyoshi but was found as a baby by them abandoned on the shore of the lake. The only evidence of her identity was a small dagger and a letter that named her as a child of the Heike Clan. Kurosuke, however, has brought her up as his own daughter, owning, as he does, allegiance to the Genji.
Aoi-Gozen now cries out, for her time is come and Koyoshi assists her into another room. Sanemori raises the white Genji banner so that the child may be born in a declared house of his clan. The baby is a boy and Kurosuke asks Sanemori to recognize Tarokichi as a retainer of Komawakamaru as the baby is named. Sanemori agrees to this and gives Tarokichi a new name to mark his rise in status to a samurai—Tezuka-no-Taro Mitsumori. He says that the boy will grow to defend his lord and his lord's nose as nobly as did Koman defend the bored Genji banner against its foes.
Aoi-Gozen, however, says that though all else recommends Terokichi as a retainer of her son the fact remains that his mother Koman on the evidence of the letter found on her as a baby, was born an enemy of the Genji. Tarokichi most perform some deed that will show clearly that his sympathies are not in the slightest degree affected by his mother's birth. Sanemori realizes that assurance of absolute fidelity is essential when the new young lord is so beset with enemies and agrees that recognition of Tarokichi’s service must be delayed.
For his safety the new baby must be sent to Suwa where his own father was born and Kurosuke begins to prepare immediately for the journey.
Seno-o has heard all that has passed and his suspicions are confirmed. He enters to accuse Sanemori of treachery and, kicking Koman's body out of the way, declares that he will kill Aoi-Gozen's baby himself.
Tarokichi, seeing his mother's body defiled and his new young lord threatened, seizes the dagger that Koman had carried and stabs Seno-o. Seno-o collapses and calls out that Tarokichi has now killed a Heike man and can claim to have passed the test of loyalty Aoi-Gozen sought to impose. He reveals that Koman was, in fact, his daughter whom he abandoned soon after her birth, and that the dagger with which his own grandson has stabbed him is his own dagger. Having heard all that has befallen, Seno-o reveals that he deliberately allowed himself to be stabbed by his own grandson so that Tarokichi might claim the honor of serving under Komawakamaru. He then draws his sword and cuts off his own head by holding the blade across the back of his neck.
Tarokichi now says that as a samurai he must also avenge his mother by slaying Sanemori, who caused her death. Sanemori says that Tarokichi is too young to take his revenge yet promises the boy that if he will fight with his lord against the Heike when he grows up, Sanemori, who must remain with the Heike in spite of his ties with the Genji, will give him a chance to avenge in battle the death of Koman.
Sanemori mounts his horse and is about to leave when Nisota, the man who betrayed Aoi-Gozen, appears from his hiding and says he will report their treason to the Heike headquarters. As he begins to run off, Sanemori throws after him a hooked rope and kills him.
Sanemori rides off, leaving the triumphant Tarokichi, still a boy in spite of his newly won dignity as a samurai, to mount Koyoshi's spinning frame as though it were a horse and to pose with his mother's dagger in imitation of the martial valor of the warrior he hopes to be.
Yukitsuna, a Genji warrior trying to rescue the retired Emperor Goshirakawa now under house arrest by Kiyomori, head of the Heike Clan, visits the Kiyomizu Temple to offer a prayer for the success of his mission.
Just after he has passed the Otowa hill on his way to the temple, Matsunami-Kengyo, a blind musician, comes to the hill, accompanied by his escort, Reisui, on his way to the Toba Detached Palace to which the Retired Emperor is confined. The escort, who in in fact a highway robber, kills the blind musician and deprives him of his clothes. He is, however, killed with a dirk thrown by Yukitsuna. Yukitsuna takes hold of Matsunami-Kengyo's clothes, intending to use them for his planned disguise. Tsunetoshl, a Heike warrior, appears but Yukitsuna successfully escapes his pursuit.
Disguising himself as Matsunami-Kengyo, Yukitsuna visits the Toba Detached Palace. He meets his daughter, Kozakura, who is serving as a lady-in-waiting to help him take the retired Emperor out of the detached palace. He asks her about Matsuyoi, her mother, who arm entered the detached palace service for the same purpose, and learns to his astonishment that Matsuyoi failed in her attempt to assassinate Kiyomori in his quarters in the detached palace and was killed on the contrary. Led by Kozakura, Yukitsuna proceeds to an inner room.
Three servants break branches off maple trees in the garden and burn them to warm themselves. The retired Emperor, instead of scolding them for their unruly conduct, sends a lady-in-waiting to them with his present of sake. Overjoyed, they drink sake to their hearts' content.
Kozakura brings a strip at paper on which the retired Emperor has written a poem. Heiji, one of the servants, who are actually Heike warriors in disguise, arrests her and asks her whether her father is Yukitsuna. As Kozakura refuses to answer, he ties her up and begins to torture her when Yukitsuna reappears. Heiji tells Yukitsuna to play the Biwa for her or help torture Kozakura. Yukitsuna obeys the order. When he has finished playing the biwa, Heiji tries to attack him with his sword. Yukitsuna runs away, carrying Kozakura in his arms.
Yukitsuna comes to a hill in the compound of the palace, being pursued by men of the Heike Clan. An arrow swishes past him and the archer, who is none other than Shigemori, Kiyomori's son, appears, followed by the three "servants," who have now revealed their true identities as Heike warriors Tsunetoshi, Moritsugu and Tadamitsu.
Shigemori tells Yukitsuna that he need not worry about the retired Emperor's safety as long as he, Shigemori, is beside the retired Emperor. At his suggestion Yukitsuna takes his leave with a promise to meet him for a showdown in the near future.
Copyright 2015 panthorstudios.com