What woman would not be moved by the legendary Shizuka Gozen, a real woman who actually lived a thousand years ago? She was a dancer and Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s lover. After Yoshitsune's brother, Yoritomo, tried to kill him, she risked her life to follow him into hiding, but she wasn’t as strong and was unable to make it over Mt. Yoshino during the winter. Yoshitsune told her to turn back, and that was the last they ever see of each other. Yoshitsune gave her the money she needed as well as some of his retainers, but the retainers betrayed her, stole the money, and fled, leaving her alone on the snowy mountain. At that time, she was already pregnant with Yoshitsune's child.
Her identity was quickly discovered because she was far too beautiful for anyone to believe that she lived in such a snowy, mountainous region, and she was brought before Yoritomo, the man who recently tried to kill her lover.
Owing to her profession, she was an accomplished dancer. When Yoritomo ordered her to dance at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, she offended him by dancing while singing a song of longing for her lover, whom Yoritomo had tried to kill. Shizuka Gozen was so in love that she was willing to risk her life for it, and it was Yoritomo's wife, Hojo Masako, who came to her defense.
She suggested to her husband, “Let us greatly reward her, and send her home alive – however, only in exchange for the life of her as-yet unborn child.”
(Key points in Tsukihime’s interpretation and direction)
The ghost of Shizuka Gozen still haunts snowy Mt. Yoshino, wandering in search of Yoshitsune a thousand years after their deaths, and after her appearance, we take a trip one thousand years into the past. In the scene where they bid each other their last farewell on snowy Mt. Yoshino, Yoshitsune gives Shizuka his sword as a memento, and she risks her life fighting treacherous retainers with her Japanese halberd to keep them from stealing his sword. Moreover, her opponents are a former world kickboxing champion and a former all Japan karate champion. She doesn’t use a formal style of halberd fighting. Her style retains a distinctive suppleness due to it being a female kabuki role. In the end when her baby is about to be stolen away, she resists fiercely and becomes a mad woman as the scene cuts out. Even in death, Shizuka Gozen’s soul is unable to find peace, and for more than a thousand years, she haunts Mt. Yoshino, wandering in search of Yoshitsune. Then, Yoshitsune comes to her, and they disappear into the afterlife.
The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji, authored by Murasaki Shikibu roughly a thousand years ago, is Japan’s oldest full-length novel, featuring 54 chapters portraying life during the Heian dynasty. Hikaru Genji, the main character, is a stunningly handsome prince who lost his mother at a young age. When he comes of age, he falls in love with his step-mother, whom his father, the emperor, had happily married. However, the loneliness of being rejected leads him to wander through a series of romantic relationships in search of love.
The most shocking and demonic of all the women Hikaru Genji becomes infatuated with is Lady Rokujo. She is an older noblewoman who had previously been married to the crown price, and Hikaru Genji falls in love with her while still in his teens. After the death of her husband, the crown prince, she drew upon her great intellect and sensibilities to open a social salon that catered to refined clientele, and she seemed an unattainable prize, revered as a noblewoman of the Heian dynasty. She continues to coldly reject the frivolous, young Hikaru Genji, but one night, he forces himself upon her.
Lady Rokujo begins to struggle with her own increasing feelings of attraction toward the bright Hikaru Genji, who was revealing himself to be more and more capable with each passing day. She continues to coldly keep him at bay, fearing that her reputation and honor due to being the crown prince’s widow would someday become tarnished, so Hikaru Genji begins to feel lonely and distances himself from her. Just then, his actual wife, Lady Aoi, becomes pregnant. In order to dispel her loneliness, Lady Rokujo goes to see Hikaru Genji perform in a dance procession, but she gets into a competition for the best parking spot for her carriage, during which her carriage gets damaged by – coincidentally – Lady Aoi’s retainers. This wounds her pride, and she becomes withdrawn.
Unbeknownst to her conscious mind, her soul drifts out of her body and attacks her love rival Lady Aoi and several other women.
(Key points in Tsukihime’s dramatization and direction)
In this presentation of The Tale of Genji, Hikaru Genji does not appear on stage. In the original novel, the deceased crown prince is barely mentioned, but he appears on stage at the finale of this presentation.
This presentation is not about lamenting the emptiness of passing infatuations.
It puts the spotlight on the kindness of the deceased crown prince, who was truly in love with Lady Rokujo – who for her part shows us an example of love so painful that it causes her soul to become a vengeful spirit without her ever even knowing. And the hope is that this message will inspire realizations among the audience.
The script is completely original, and in it, Tsukihime restructures The Tale of Genji to present the memoirs of Lady Rokujo in the first person.