Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley
“Genius” refers to a person who has a God-given talent at a level unreachable by ordinary human endeavor.
Among the entertainers that I’m familiar with, Misora Hibari was such a person.
To commemorate Misora Hibari’s having performed there continuously for 20 years, special performances were to be held at Shinjuku Kona Theater. Again (see Part 8), Toho contacted me. There were to be performances for two months, November and December. This was in 1983, so it’s an old story now, but for me, it’s an unforgettable memory.
It was a different kind of joy from what I felt from my experience with Isuzu Yamada.
Needless to say, the performances were sold out; the theater was filled every day with enthusiastic fans. Even now, after so long a time, I don’t have to describe her popularity. I saw the situation very closely at the theater and was absolutely overwhelmed.
Given her artistry, personality, and popularity, we can’t expect that another singer like Hibari will appear. Truly, she is worthy of being called a genius.
For the commemorative performances, Hibari proposed to perform Takekurabe, a musical by Ichiyo Higuchi.
I got a telephone call from Tadashi Sawashima, the scriptwriter and director.
In a work titled Suisen no Uta (Song of the Narcissus), a character named Midori becomes the student of a shinnai teacher, and then performs shinnai, doing joururi and playing shamisen. Of course, Hibari would be playing the leading role. So I was being asked to teach Hibari shinnai. Sawashima also liked shinnai.
In the past, when I was drunk, the only karaoke songs that I sang were Hibari’s Kanashii Sake and Sado Jowa. Nowadays, I hardly ever sing karaoke, but among Hibari’s songs, those two are my favorites.
Incidentally, the other day, in a bar in Kagurazaka, I sang those two songs for the first time in a long time. Or rather, I should say that I was forced to sing. I think that those two songs are really masterpieces. Even though I sang with drunken energy, I still felt good.
Well, I had to teach shinnai to Hibari, the genius. It wasn’t entirely a good feeling. There was pleasure and happiness, but at first I was nervous.
Together with one of my students, I went to her home with a shamisen. I remember that she was wearing a muumuu when she greeted us.
The joururi in the lesson was Rancho, and the shamisen lesson was chukan, which is a typical shinnai prelude. Hibari had me sit with my back to her Buddhist altar; giving me the best seat showed her respect to me as her teacher. Her manner never changed, no matter how many times we met after that. Her attitude showed that she was a super top-notch star, and I was impressed. I felt that it showed her respect for the traditional arts.
For the lesson, I gave her tapes of the two works, and asked her to practice and memorize them when she had time. That’s the same teaching method that I use now with everyone. I went to her home several times to teach her.
I was impressed that, in a short time, she learned both joururi and shamisen. However, right before the first performance, she decided not to perform joururi, and, instead, only played the shamisen. She might have thought that it would be discourteous to her fans if she didn’t perform shinnai accurately and properly. Maybe she was a perfectionist. From my point of view, I’d hoped that she would do the joururi.
For two months, there were performances at the Shinjuku and Umeda Koma Theaters. During that time, I admired her attitude toward music and artistic skill, and her giving her fans the highest priority, as well as her modesty and broadmindedness. Even now, I treasure the shamisen case that she gave me.
An encounter with a great person enlightens me. Jinsei’te subarashii mono desu ne… (“Life is a wonderful thing, isn’t it”: a line from one of Misora Hibari’s most popular numbers). Anyway, a happy experience, the mystery of an encounter…
Starting in the next issue, I’ll write about my once-in-a-lifetime experiences performing in around 40 countries.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Aug-Sept 2014 issue, issue #75).