Kyogen is a form of traditional Japanese theater and performance art. Kyogen can be literally translated as “mad words” or “wild speech”. This art form grew out of folk and Imperial court song and dance. Later the art form gradually divided into two branches. The more serious forms and elements further evolved into the masked no drama, the more comic forms and elements evolving into kyogen. Eventually lineages or schools of kyogen came into prominence and codified many of the traditions. I could go on and on about the history of kyogen and the intricacies of the art form, but that type of discourse is best left to my far more eloquent and expert colleagues.
In contemporary times, two schools remain, the Okura and Izumi schools. The Izumi school traces it’s lineage back to the 15th century with nearly 600 years of history.
As part of the AsiaAlive series of programming here at the museum, accomplished members of the Izumi family of kyogen players were invited to share their art and traditions with the people of San Francisco. Two sisters, Izumi Junko and Izumi Shoko (who is also the successor of her grandfather’s stage-name, Miyake Tokuro) are currently performing in the AsiaAlive program. Izumi Junko became the first female professional kyogen actress in the previously male-only world of kyogen. Miyake Tokuro is also a professional kyogen actress and together the two sisters have been recognized by the Ministry of Education for their work in teaching youth throughout Japan about this art form. Here in the museum they are joined by Junko’s adorable daughter, Kyoko, who will have her U.S. debut here in San Francisco at the age of 6.
They will be joined for a special performance at the museum by their brother Izumi Motoya who is the current 20th generation head of the Izumi school of kyogen. Izumi Motoya is a well-known celebrity in Japan and is most recognized for his portrayal of Hojo Tokimune in an NHK historical drama television series. Hojo Tokimune was a historical regent of the Kamakura shogunate in the 13th century who lead the shogunate through the crisis of the two attempted invasions of Japan by the forces of the Mongol leader Kublai Khan.
Their father Izumi Motohide, the 19th head of the school, has also received numerous prizes and distinctions. One of his notable accomplishments was the adaptation of many of Shakespeare’s plays into the kyogen form.
The Izumi family is certainly equal to facing the challenge of the times by expanding kyogen beyond it’s traditional boundaries. In that spirit I offer you this:
It is a segment from Hustle Mania 2005, a Japanese pro-wrestling extravaganza. This is Wrestlemania, Japanese-style! Izumi Motoya, the 20th head of a school of very traditional performance art, takes his 600 year old form of entertainment full-force up against the contemporary entertainment of ostentatious athletic spectacle. It’s mind-blowing isn’t it? I had to pause for a good 10 seconds to wrap my head around it. It’s kinda like the feeling I had when I first saw the Matsuken Samba. *a single eyebrow raised in cautionary skepticism*
Find Part 2 of the match here on youtube.
The trash talk from the geisha doll manager of Motoya’s opponent is hilarious (“Motoya is like a bean-sprout. He looks like he’d be blown away with a stiff wind! I’m sick of hearing about his family’s 600 hundred years of history. If he wants to defeat my wrestler, he’s got 600 years of training ahead of him!”) But Izumi Motoya is not to be perturbed by such uncouthness. His response is a poetic challenge in the old classic Japanese of the Muromachi period. Later, Izumi’s entourage enters the arena with an air of authenticity that is in stark contrast to the garishness of the event. In the end, the pen proves mightier than the sword, and refined tradition defeats the brutish ogre. The Mid-air Motoya Chop (Motoya’s finishing move) is obviously for show. One youtbe-er commented “Motoya must’ve hit a pressure point and the other guy fell down because he was so relaxed.” But it was never a serious match of physical strength or athleticism but a contest of stage presence.
Pro-wrestling has always been a stage for not-so-subtle satire. (maybe you remember that Hulk Hogan defeating the despicable Iron Sheik in Wrestlemania right after the Iran hostage crisis.) And it is certainly a comical farce naturally aligned with kyogen. The idea of a professional kyogen player defeating a professional wrestler in a wrestling match is hilarious. Certainly Izumi Motoya, the colorful cast of wrestlers, and likely even the audience itself are all in on the joke. But beneath all the ill-mannered caricature and the gaudy spectacle, there is a sincere longing among the frothing cheering masses to see a man of cultivation triumph over a simple brute. Izumi knows this, and that is the heart of it all.
Some may say that Izumi Motoya has done his tradition a disservice, but I think that like his father who rose to the challenge of Shakespeare and his sisters who confront issues of gender equality, he too has fearlessly taken kyogen into a new territory and I admire that. The way I see it, rather than an evolution or de-evolution of kyogen, he has taken the traditional forms into the crucible, and emerged stronger for it.
Now give me a Somersaulting Double Mid-air Motoya Chop off the top turn-buckle! YEAH!! WOOOOOT!
Leave a Reply