Quote: Benkei as midwife

Another excerpt from Harami Tokiwa, which I quoted before.  The context here is that towards the end of act 3 Yoshitsune’s mother goes into labor in the middle of the street while being paraded around as a criminal.  People call for a midwife, and (translation is rough):

At that moment a tall, dark old lady appeared. Eyes like saucers peered out from the large cotton hat on her forehead. “I am well known in this flower of a capital. I’m called the Iron Granny, a famous midwife. When it comes to birth, I can handle twins or triplets without even breaking a sweat. Breach births, babies with cauls, babies missing limbs, or even gourd-shaped babies that are swollen head and rear and get stuck in the middle, I can drag them all out. That’s why I’m also called the Rake Granny. I’ve come in response to your request.” She sat with a shout, like a mortar being set down. Will the warriors notice she is Benkei?… He reached inside the curtain [hiding Tokiwa], yanked out the babe and held it up.

This is Chikamatsu humor!  First of all Benkei is a huge, burly rough man, so watching him trying to disguise himself as a little old granny is already comedy gold.  But then, because he is a warrior he performs a nanori, a warrior’s customary proclamation of his name(s), rank, abilities and exploits.  Of course, a nanori is hilariously incongruous for a midwifeThat Chikamatsu!

Quote: Benkei vs. Ushiwaka

Just a fun quote I came across today (Translation is rough):

甲乙分目の戦ひは、巣立の鷲の若鳥と、深山を出て荒熊が、野辺に争ふ如くにて、さしもの弁慶あぐんで見えしが、物々し小冠者めと、畳みかけて討つ処を、擬宝珠に飛上り、片足かけて長刀を、からりと踏で踏落す

The fight was dead even, as if a young eagle just out of the nest and a wild bear from deep in the mountains were struggling on a field.  Benkei began to look annoyed, and shouting “you overrated little brat!” launched an attack.  But (Ushiwaka) jumped up on a bridge post, stepped on Benkei’s naginata with one foot and pushed it down to clank on the ground.

This is from the Chikamatsu Monzaemon play Harami Tokiwa (Pregnant Tokiwa), but the scene is the classic Hashi Benkei fight between Benkei and Yoshitsune (then Ushiwaka), where the young Yoshitsune defeats Benkei and makes him his retainer.  Hashi Benkei is the name of the Nō play that features this particular fight, but the story appears in the Gikeiki (although not on a bridge), which itself was composed from pre-existing stories.

Harami Tokiwa was first staged in 1710 but even now, 300 years later, this is still a totally cool scene!  And it’s familiar to every fan of samurai anime; the “small nimble guy dodges the big slow guy’s sword and jumps on top of it” is a trope that is still very much current.