In this story, just when Kiyohara no Takehira has ordered his retainers to kill the people who will not obey his will, Kamakura Gongoro appears with the shout “Shibaraku” (Wait a Moment!) and saves their lives.
In Edo-era Kabuki, actors made annual contracts with theatres. Performances in November when the contracts started were called kaomise (face-showing), and were the most important annual event as they introduced the actors who were members of the troupe. Repertories performed as kaomise customarily included scenes in which all the main actors are in one place and a righteous character appears crying “Shibraraku,” and saves the people who are to be killed by the villain.
Among the various plays performed for kaomise, this scene was performed many times, and was gradually refined so that fixed dramatic techniques were established. From Meiji period (1868-1912), the scene came to be performed independently as “Shibaraku,” and this practice has continued until today. Thanks to the circumstances of their creation, “Shibaraku” productions are said to allow audiences to enjoy stylized dramatic techniques rather than a story.
The protagonist of this play gives an aragoto (exaggerated style) performance, which was the specialty of each Ichikawa Danjuro generation. Therefore, “Shibaraku” is counted among the “Kabuki-juhachiban” (Eighteen Kabuki Pieces), which were ie no gei (“family arts” passed down through the generations) of the Danjuro family.
“Shibaraku” is significant because it introduces the main actors of the troupe, and so a variety of characters appear in this play.
The long speech that Gongoro gives without pause on the hanamichi (walkway) stage is called a tsurane. It allows the audience to hear the actor’s oratorical skill, which is one of the arts of aragoto performance. Tsurane contain many puns, and the content is generally changed for each production.
Gongoro moves from the hanamichi to the main stage and removes the top half of his costume; as he does so, voices on stage repeatedly shout “A-rya, ko-rya,” and finally cry “Dekkee” in time with Gongoro’s mie poses. These voices are called keshogoe, and praise the aragoto characters. Keshogoe also praise characters such as Soga no Goro in “Kotobuki Soga no Taimen” (The Revenge of the Soga Brothers).