Warau(laughing) Iemon (1997)

嗤う伊右衛門 (中公文庫)
嗤う伊右衛門 (中公文庫)
This is a book by Kyogoku Natsuhiko. It’s from his series of rewritten traditional Japanese stories.
“Warau Iemon” is the written version of “Yotsuya Kaidan”.

Yotsuya Kaidan is the most famous Japanese ghost story and was written in 1825 by Tsuruya Nanboku IV as a kabuki play. The original title was “Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan.”
It’s a tale of betrayal, murder and ghostly revenge.

Iemon, a samurai from Enya-han (塩治藩Enya-fief) ,and Oiwa, a daughter of the Tamiya family, were a married couple. Although Iemon had been passionate with her before they got married, he became tired of her because she was weak due to illness.
Oume, a granddaughter of a well-to-do neighbor called Itou Kihei, was in love with Iemon. Oume and Kihei poisoned Oiwa disguising it as medicine. However the poison did not kill her, but instead disfigured her, causing her hair to fall out and her left eye to droop. Seeing Oiwa’s disfigurement, Iemon began to hate her and he was lured toward the Itou family’s wealth and young Oume. Iemon and Kihei conspired to kill Oiwa.
Iemon killed Oiwa and flung her body into a nearby river.
Iemon planned his new marriage. On his wedding day to his new bride Oume, Iemon lifted her veil to find Oiwa’s disfigured face. Horrified, he thinks it’s a ghost and beheads her and discovers that he has in fact killed Oume. He also killed Kihei mistaking him as the ghost too.
After that, everywhere he goes, he sees the disfigured face. Oiwa’s ghost manages to kill all of the conspirators with Iemon. In the end, Iemon gets killed by his brother-in-law whom he had betrayed before.

This is the original story “Yotsuya Kaidan” by Tsuruya Nanboku.
There is a Japanese word “Iroaku(色悪).” It’s one of the kabuki terms which means a villain who has a handsome face.
Iemon is typical “Iroaku.” If you refer to the word in the dictionary, you will find that Iemon is written as an example in the difinition of Iroaku.

Kyogoku Natsuhiko transformed this traditional character and made a new “Yotsuya Kaidan”.
Iemon, in the story by Kyogoku, is a serious, honest and sincere man. He is silent and never laughs.
Oiwa, who was a powerless and obedient character in the traditional story, is changed into a courageous and reasonable character that is strong willed.
Oiwa’s face (it is a trademark of Oiwa) has been disfigured at the beginning of the story because of disease. Oiwa was a beautiful woman, but after her disease, it became difficult for her to find a husband. If she couldn’t find someone, the Tamiya family would lose its status. Oiwa thought that she didn’t need a husband and the Tamiya family should just accept it. However, her father asked a man called “Komatakuguri no Mataichi” whose job was to solve problem or come to a private settlement using his skill in speech and elocution, to find the husband. The man who Mataichi introduced was Iemon, an unemployed ronin. In spite of her disfigured face, Iemon decided to marry her to help the Tamiya family. Knowing his sincerity, Oiwa got married with him. Iemon respected her strong will. They were attracted to each other. They never spoke words of love, but it is clearly apparent to the reader that it is true love.
The two characters, Iemon and Oiwa in the Kyougoku version, are virtuous and they both wish for their partner’s happiness.
However, this story is a tragedy and all the characters die at the end of the story in the same way as the traditional Yotsuya Kaidan.
There aren’t any evil characters in the story by Kyougoku other than Itou Kihei. Kihei is definitely an evil character. Although he is cruel and killed some of his enemies all he did to iemon and Oiwa was to tell lies. He made Oiwa believe that divorce was the only way to make Iemon happy. So Oiwa decided to get divorced although Iemon opposed this. Iemon thought that she hated him so much that she would never change her mind. Despairing, he accepted her decision, and got married to Oume instead, following Kihei’s advice. Oume became pregnant. The baby was Kihei’s. In this story, she is Kihei’s secret lover. Kihei didn’t want to marry her because she is a daughter of a merchant and he was a samurai. So he shifted the responsibility of her and the baby onto Iemon.
Oume is not an evil character. However, she didn’t tell Iemon and Oiwa that he had lied. She is an unhappy and pitiful woman. Although she hated Kihei, she couldn’t escape from him. So she married Iemon to get away.
The other characters like Naosuke and Takuetsu, who were conspirators with Iemon in the traditional story, are not bad either. Their only fault was telling Oiwa the truth. They told her the truth because they thought it would be good for her.
It is interesting that the truth is more harmful than the lie in this story. When Oiwa believed Kihei’s lie, she was happy because she could believe that Iemon was happy. However, when Naosuke and Takuetsu told her the truth, this drove her mad. Oiwa disappeared and a rumor that she was ghost was spread around Edo. Iemon too became possessed by madness. When he became possessed by madness, Iemon laughed for the first time.
The story ends with some terrible murders and a miserable death.
Oiwa killed Takuetsu, Oume killed her baby, Kihei killed Naosuke and Iemon killed Oume and Kihei. All the main character eventually died.
In the end, Iemon got inside a chest in which he had hidden Oiwa’s dead body, and he let many snakes and mice bite him to death. Holding Oiwa’s dead body, Iemon’s dead face was smiling.

This is the synopsis of Warau(laughing) Iemon.
No ghosts appear in the story. Instead, the story tells how the ghost story was born. It’s a strange, odd, sad, dreary and beautiful human drama. I really love it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s