“Bancho Sarayashiki” is a masterpiece in the genre of shin-kabuki (new Kabuki). A work by the playwright Okamoto Kido, it was first performed on stage in 1916.
In the story, Aoyama Harima, a direct retainer of the shogun, is constantly quarreling with commoners beneath his station. He has also fallen in love with Okiku, a maid in his family’s mansion. Okiku doubts his feelings, however, and breaks a treasured family plate to test Harima. When he learns of this, Harima is furious that Okiku has questioned his love for her. In a rage, he kills Okiku and throws her body down a well.
There was an older play in traditional Kabuki, written in the ghost story style, titled “Banshu Sarayashiki”. It followed a similar storyline. In the key scene, the main character, Aoyama Tessan, ties up a maid—also named Okiku—and hangs her over a well. He then kills her and casts her body into the well. Kido wrote “Bancho Sarayashiki” using much of this original plot while adding a unique love theme to fit the sense of modern times.
Shin-kabuki refers to plays composed during the second half of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) by playwrights and other writers outside of the Kabuki realm, not by scriptwriters who specialized in Kabuki. Okamoto Kido is one of the leading writers in this New Kabuki category. He was noted for dialogue depicting modern romance with rich poetic sentiment. This distinction can be heard in one section, “issho ni ichido no koi” (only one love in my entire life), of the long speech by Aoyama Harima.