Sugimori Nobumori Biography

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Despite Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s enormous popularity, few details about his life are clear that do not relate directly to his theatrical activities. Born Sugimori Nobumori, his exact place and date of birth and death are still contested, and little is known of his early education, except from the internal evidence of the plays, which reveals his real familiarity with Chinese philosophical writings and Japanese Buddhist texts, as well as a love of Japanese classical prose and poetry. Chikamatsu began writing plays for both the puppet theater and then later for live actors (in Kabuki), but he spent the major part of his career working in the puppet theater, particularly at the Takemotoza in Osaka; a number of his great plays were written for that performing group. When his patron Takemoto Giday died in 1714, Chikamatsu, by then an experienced writer of sixty-one, decided to help the new head of the troupe to continue and, putting forth his best efforts, wrote a half dozen of his greatest plays in the next and final decade of his active life. The exact circumstances of his last years are unknown, and details about his domestic life are few and contradictory. What is known of the man is derived from his art.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (chee-kah-maht-sew mohn-sah-ehm-ohn) wrote the first plays of lasting value for both the Bunraku (puppet) and Kabuki theaters, yet little is known of his personal life. He was probably born in 1653 in Fukui, Japan, as Sugimori Nobumori to a warrior family. After losing his post, his father moved the family to Kyoto when Chikamatsu was ten or eleven, and the boy developed an interest in haikai poetry and Japanese classical literature while serving as a page in the household of a nobleman. Yotsugi Soga (the soga heir) was an instant success and established Chikamatsu’s name as a dramatist. Although he is credited with more than one hundred puppet plays as well as an estimated twenty-six to forty plays for the Kabuki stage, his authorship of a number of them is disputed.{$S[A]Sugimori Nobumori;Chikamatsu Monzaemon}

Chikamatsu’s dramas fall into two general types: historical plays, which make up the majority, and domestic plays. They range in time from Japan’s legendary Age of the Gods to current events of his day. The theme of all of his plays is the conflict between love and duty. Virtue is generally triumphant. If the plot does not permit a happy ending, the moral or social code is vindicated by the suicide of the offenders. This is particularly the case with the domestic plays, the tragedies ending in “love suicide,” in which the lovers decide that their present plight results from past sins and thus seek the next life, where they hope they may become husband and wife. Chikamatsu, with his wide range of knowledge, both in the Japanese classics and in quotations from Chinese writings, ranged widely through Confucian ethics, Buddhist ideas of the afterlife, and the predicaments of human life. In whatever historical time his play is cast, it is written in the language and the manner of his contemporaries. His puppet plays were mostly written for the famous reciter Takemoto Gidayu (1651-1714), and his Kabuki plays for the celebrated actor Sakata Tojuro (1647-1709). About 1705, Chikamatsu became staff playwright for the Takemoto Theater; it was after this date that he reached his greatest heights. He is celebrated today as Japan’s greatest playwright.