I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Koichi Miura/Hibari Misora/Kiyoshi Hikawa -- Benten Kozo (弁天小僧)

Shirazaa itte kikaseyashou...
Benten Kozo taa ORE NO KOTO DA!

These lines right here are apparently from one of the most iconic scenes from Kawatake Mokuami's (河竹黙阿弥) famous play called "Aoto Zoshi Hana no Nishiki-e" (青砥稿花紅彩画), also known simply as "Benten Kozo". This proud declaration was announced by Benten Kozo Kikunosuke (弁天小僧 菊之助), one of a group of five (as I quote from the Wiki) gizoku/honorable thieves, when his plot to rob a kimono store in drag was revealed - well, now, that's one way to go about doing that, alright. 

I'm not all that well-versed in kabuki theater, so as usual enka served as my introduction to the aforementioned play via the song with the same name. I had seen that the original singer of "Benten Kozo" was Koichi Miura (三浦洸一), though I only got fully accquainted with it through Kiyoshi Hikawa's "Shin Enka Meikyoku Collection 2" (新・演歌名曲コレクション2 −愛しのテキーロ/男花−) as a cover. With such a romping score, courtesy of renowned songwriter Tadashi Yoshida (吉田正), and Hikawa's expressive delivery, this catchy tune from 1955 quickly grew on me and eventually piqued my interest on Kikunosuke enough to read up about his story on the J-Wiki

Miura's version

From there, I learnt that Takao Saeki's (佐伯孝夫) lyrics are actually based on the aforementioned lines (plus everything in between) and some of the young thief's other exploits from the original play itself. It definitely brings to mind Hachiro Kasuga's own kabuki-themed hit "Otomi-san" (お富さん), and it seems like Miura's "Benten Kozo" was created when Victor Records saw how warmly the former (from King Records) was received about a year before. Not surprisingly, it became one of Miura's biggest successes.

As with other popular plays, besides being adapted into mainstream music, "Benten Kozo" the play had its fair share of movie renditions, one of which titled "Hibari Juu-hachi Ban Benten Kozo" (ひばり十八番 弁天小僧) from 1960 starred Hibari Misora (美空ひばり) as the thief himself. That initially took me by surprise, but on second thought, with Misora's ability to bring out a gruff and masculine persona, her role there did not seem as strange anymore. Hmm, I wonder how she found having to act as a man trying to act as a woman during the kimono shop scene. But anyway, you can check out excerpts of the this movie from the video above with Miura singing away, and listen to Misora's own take of the song in the video immediately above this paragraph.

Comparing all three renditions of "Benten Kozo" the song, I have to admit that I prefer the covers to the original for I find that in the latter, both Hikawa and Misora make it sound as if they were the character themselves, whereas Miura sounds like he's just narrating the story. With that being said, I think Hikawa could play a convincing Kikunosuke.

1 comment:

  1. Hi again, Noelle.

    I would agree with you that Miura's rendition is that of the storyteller behind "Benten Kozo", which in itself is not a bad thing either. However, both Hikawa and Misora (especially the former) bring out the gusto. Perhaps they were using a bit of the Method style of acting into their performances?:)


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