Tonight on NHK's "Kayo Concert", I heard Hiroshi Itsuki （五木ひろし）perform an especially stately enka by the title of "Jinsei Gekijo" (Theatre of Life). With that sort of title, my curiosity was piqued so I looked up my usual sources. The original song had actually been created in 1938 by composer Masao Koga （古賀政男）and lyricist Sonosuke Sato （佐藤惣之助）and sung by Shigeo Kusunoki （楠木繁夫）as the theme song for one of the early movie adaptations of the famed short story of the same name by Shiro Ozaki（尾崎士郎）. In the story, Ozaki wrote about life at Waseda University and beyond and how the protagonist of the story gave up the love of his life for his love for power and wealth, much to his detriment.
According to the J-Wiki article on "Jinsei Gekijo", the theme song became famous from Kusunoki's rendition and in fact, became an unofficial second song representing Waseda University, one of the largest private schools of higher learning in the country. However, Hideo Murata's performance of the song as one of his earliest singles in April 1959 was such that it imprinted itself into the heads of a lot of fans that Murata's version was the original version. At the very least, it seems to be the definitive version. Sato's lyrics expressed the protagonist's ambitions disguised as the duty of every man.
Hideo Murata（村田英雄）, who was born Isamu Kajiyama （梶山勇）in 1929 in Fukuoka Prefecture, was a veteran singer of enka and rokyoku. For me, he was a regular presence on the first several Kohaku Utagassen shows that I'd seen. And except for 1973, Murata appeared in every one of the New Year's Eve specials from 1963 to 1989. Moreover, when he was there, so was his friend and rival in the genres, Haruo Minami（三波春夫）. Looking at the two together was quite interesting....Minami always had that beatific smile on a face that seemed to eternally look up into the rafters while Murata always sported a stern expression on his face. As much as Hibari Misora （美空ひばり）was the intimidating Grande Dame of the Kohaku to her fellow performers, I could imagine that Murata also had a certain fear factor.
Murata passed away in June 2002, a little over a year after Minami himself had passed away.
And speaking of Misora, she gave her own cover of "Jinsei Gekijo". I had to actually look up the particulars at her website, but her earliest rendition was on her June 1977 album "Misora Hibari Koga Melody wo Utau -- Jinsei Gekijo"（美空ひばり 古賀メロディを歌う～人生劇場...Hibari Misora Sings The Koga Melodies -- Theatre of Life）.
And although the above video isn't the actual performance from "Kayo Concert", here is Hiroshi Itsuki with his rendition of "Jinsei Gekijo", dressed the same way that he was tonight. I gather that considering the grand nature of the song, a mere Western suit wouldn't suffice.
Also, for those who may be interested in the movie adaptations themselves, the following page will give some insight on some of them. There have been 14 of them dating from 1936 to 1983, and there were even a couple of versions adapted for the stage.