“Kanadehon Chushingura” is one of the most important plays in the Kabuki repertoire. This jidai-mono (historical play) gidayu-kyogen depicts the revenge by Ako roshi (masterless samurai of the former Ako clan) which occurred in the Genroku period (1688-1704).
The setting of the story is changed to that of the historical chronicle “Taiheiki” describing troubles in the Nambokucho era (1336-1392), and the names used for the characters are based on people named in the “Taiheiki.” The actual Kira Kozukenosuke becomes Ko no Morono, Asano Takuminokami becomes Enya Hangan, and Oishi Kuranosuke appears on stage as Oboshi Yuranosuke.
The story has a total of 11 acts, beginning with the act in which Ko no Morono makes improper advances to Kaoyo Gozen, wife of Enya Hangan, and ending with the 47 samurai including Oboshi Yuranosuke, after working hard and taking great pains, succeeding in their raid on Morono’s mansion.
Along with “Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami” (Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy), “Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura” (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees) is considered one of the three great masterpieces of gidayu-kyogen, and is performed frequently by the great actors in each age.
The opening part of the first act of a jidai-mono, is called Daijo (prologue). At present, the only Daijo production still done is that for “Kanadehon Chushingura.”
Before the curtain is opened, a kojo-ningyo (messenger puppet) appears on stage and introduces the play's cast in a unique way of speaking. Then the word tozai, is shouted repeatedly (requesting that everyone, east and west, be quiet), and the ki (wooden clappers) are struck together slowly while the joshiki-maku (regular stage curtain) is slowly opened to reveal all actors in the play, on stage, face down like puppets. When the takemoto narrator recites the name of each role the actors face up one by one.
The various techniques of solemn and ceremonial production are served for such daijo scenes as stately prologues for long and complex plays.