In 1796 in the town of
Furuichi near the Ise Shrine a drunken doctor went on a murderous rampage in
the local Aburaya brothel. Before it was over a number of people lay dead or
wounded including the maid Oman. Two days later the doctor committed suicide
at the home of his uncle who was a low-ranking priest at the shrine.
This series of
events and others like it had been fuel for the creative talents of 18th
century authors. Within ten days the first performances of a play based on
this incident was being performed in a town nearby. Its success spurred
Chikamatsu Tokuzō (近松徳三 or ちかまつ.とくぞう:1751-1810) and two of his assistants to
create their own version which debuted in Kyōto just two and a half
months later. Supposedly written in only three days this qualifies it as an
"overnight pickle play" or ichiyazuke kyogen (一夜漬狂言 or
murderous plays this one was often performed during the summer "...when the
bloodcurdling doings on stage might provide audiences some 'chilling' relief
in sultry weather."
Okon's lover is the
sensitive Mitsugi, but when he takes possession of a bloodthirsty sword his
whole personality changes. Okon is the heroine, but her role is somewhat
secondary. Although Mitsugi leaves a stage littered with the dead and dying
he is never blamed. The sword is. After several more dramatic scenes
three figures 'pose triumphantly' at the end including Mitsugi and Okon.
While this leaves the audience thinking this might be a happy ending it is
nevertheless slightly ambiguous - "...Okon's fate remains vague."