Asian Theatre Journal 19.2 (2002) 357-359
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In Chikamatsu: Five Late Plays, Andrew Gerstle has added to his impressive work on the plays of Chikamatsu and their musical structure while also significantly expanding access to Chikamatsu's work in English. Gerstle offers translations of five important late plays by the master: his last shinjümono (double-suicide contemporary plays) and four late jidaimono (period plays), including the last play Chikamatsu wrote. Gerstle's choice of plays seems to have been governed by two considerations: to provide plays that illustrate recent scholarly discussions of how, in the final years of his career, Chikamatsu probed the nature of heroic honor from different angles, presenting a complex ideal of strong individuals and rulers (p. 24); and to complement existing translations. Thus Gerstle has added to our stock of translations of jidaimono as well as plays from Chikamatsu's mature period.
The translation work in this book is a major linguistic accomplishment. Gerstle has done yeoman's work with Chikamatsu's complex and rich language. Furthermore, he not only offers us five new excellent translations but also—with the addition of the notations added to Chikamatsu's text by the chanter—a new approach to full English translations of puppet theatre texts. Such notations indicate cadences that conclude musical paragraphs, high pitches used at climactic moments of intense emotion, scene cadences that conclude scenes after which the setting changes, and others. (See his list on p. 31.) They make it possible to understand the plays as performance texts:
The basic principle is that a chanter moves between and among a relatively realistic declamatory "spoken" style with no musical accompaniment, and various levels of "song" style accompanied by the shamisen. As the reader will quickly notice, this is evident in both the [End Page 357] dialogue and narrative sections. This rhetorical technique of constantly shifting between lyrical and dramatic voices for emphasis and effect is the essence of jöruri chanting. . . . Since the notation code was inserted by the chanter for whom the play was written, we may consider this as a guide to the first reading and interpretation of Chikamatsu's text. . . . The notation reveals the rhetorical strategy of the performers for whom Chikamatsu composed his plays [p. 17].
Gerstle's contribution is great: the significance of these notations in connoting a surer sense of the essence of the art of jöruri performance is tremendous. We are given the means to "hear" these plays and to remember that they are the text for a musical drama. We are also reminded of the full picture of play creation—that is, the journey of the play from the last stroke of Chikamatsu's brush to its realization on stage.
Gerstle provides orientation for the translations with introductions to the book as a whole and to each individual play. He focuses his general introduction on Chikamatsu and his collaborators. We learn how collaborations affected the flow of his development as a playwright and the contents of his plays. The thrust is that "Chikamatsu's collaboration with various performers over the years continually drove him to produce new and innovative works, in both theatricality and character depiction" (p. 23). Gerstle explains the dynamics of Chikamatsu's later plays by pointing out that they thrived on the tension between realistic depiction of character (developed through his collaborations with kabuki practitioners) and spectacular theatricality (added as a result of collaborationwithTakedaIzumo in Chikamatsu's post-kabuki period).
The circumstances surrounding each play are contextualized with the brief introduction to each translation. Gerstle explains the major sources Chikamatsu relied on in creating the play, and he gives a brief exposition of the play's themes, qualities, and production history. Gerstle's detailed annotations follow in a separate section after the last translation. These generous annotations allow the English-language reader to appreciate the literary complexity that supported the dramatic possibilities of a performance of a Chikamatsu play. Gerstle acknowledges his...