(Editor’s note: the below summary is principally derived from “The Two Shizukas. Zemai’s Futari Shizuka”, Jacqueline Mueller, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 285-298, Published by Sophia University.)
Contributed by David Surtasky
Futari Shizuka (二人静) (summary)
A third category play attributed to Zeami
One early spring a Priest from Yoshino stood along the banks of the Natsumi River. It was the seventh day of the first month and he was watching over the women as they were plucking new shoots for the Festival of Young Herbs. He had called his Servant to him and instructed him to gather everyone up, since it was getting late in the day. One Village Woman malingered in returning, and the Servant scolded her for it.
Paying no mind, the Village Woman was looking up at Mount Yoshino. She could see the snow still on the pines, lingering deep in the mountains. How long had it been gathering there? It made her think of old poems, of the watchman of the Kasuga plain, of how many days it might be until the new spring would become warm and budding with life. As she stood with her basket of fresh greens looking at the gray-green mountain and blue-white sky, a Young Woman approached.
Pardon me, said the Young Woman, but are you returning to Yoshino? If so – may I ask you to carry a message for me? Yes, replied the Village Woman, what is it? The Young Woman asked: when you return to the town, please tell the Shinto priests to pray for my relief; if they would copy a sutra in one day it would greatly help to ease my suffering – I am weighed down by the heaviness of my sins.
What suffering, wondered the Village Woman? I’ll certainly deliver your message, but whom should I say has asked for this? The Young Woman responded quickly, saying that first the Village Woman should deliver the message, and that if anyone was in doubt of this request that she herself would take possession of the Village Woman’s body and speak out her true name. Be most certain to tell them, intoned the Young Woman sadly. Saying this she became like clouds on an evening wind, becoming thinner and paler until she disappeared altogether.
This was terrifying to the Village Woman. Never had she been so frightened in her life. Clutching her basket to her, she ran back to Yoshino to find the Priest. Oh sir, she said to him, I’ve just had the strangest and most awful thing happen. She related the story of meeting the spectral Young Woman, and of her request for the copying of a sutra. It seemed so incredible that she doubted her senses, and was reluctant to even speak of it. At that moment, the spirit of the Young Woman possessed her.
How can you doubt your senses? With resentment the spirit spoke through her: from a great distance you might mistake the blossoms on Mount Yoshino for being clouds only to understand they are blossoms after all. Not everything is as it appears!
The Priest was shocked. Had the poor Village Woman lost her mind? Suddenly realizing that she had become possessed, he begged the spirit to speak its true name so he might better pray for them. Who are you, he said? One who served Yoshitsune replied the possessing spirit. Might you be Kanefusa, Yoshitsune’s loyal friend, asked the Priest?
Kanefusa was indeed a loyal vassal, said the possessing spirit, but I am not him. He ended his own life after the death of Yoshitsune, setting fire to the mansion and dying in the blaze. I am not he; in truth I am a woman and accompanied Yoshitsune as far as he would allow it. The sleeves of my robe are soaked with the endless tears of my love and devotion for him. It was beyond the possessing spirit’s ability to even speak her own name aloud.
Might you be the Lady Shizuka, asked the Priest? If so, then you were well known for the beauty of your dance. Please, dance for us now, and I will pray for your release from this world with an open heart. It is true, I loved to dance, she said, and I had made an offering of my dancing robes to the Katte shrine before my departure.
If you are truly Shizuka, said the Priest, then what color were your robes? The hakama were deepest azure, made of raw silk and striped with gloss, and the jacket was covered in flowers like the fields of autumn. The Priest looked in the shrine treasury, and behold, the dancing robes were just as the spirit of Lady Shizuka had described. Please, he said, put on these robes and dance for us. Gathering his attendants they watched, enraptured, as the possessed Young Woman donned Lady Shizuka’s robes.
From out of the gathering darkness, the spirit of Lady Shizuka appeared. Now there were two Shizuka Gozen, one spectral and living! They faced each other in their fine robes and recounted the tale of Yoshitsune’s flight:
His brother Yoritomo had declared Yoshitsune to be a traitor. Fleeing the capital, Yoshitsune boarded a boat, but strong winds and storms blew him back from where he came. It was early spring, with frost still on the fields, as Yoshitsune made his way through the slender mountain paths of Yoshino – his means of escape dwindling with each passing day. He tried to hide under the blooming flowers of the trees, but he could find no respite. At night the winds blew cruelly, and in his sleepless state he watched as the cherry blossoms scattered like clouds in a dream. He understood that as one may be made great, one may also be made small, and that the world was transient and ever changing. Falling like snow, the blossoms from the trees fled before him and gave him no shelter from the rain. He traveled under a waning moon with the flowers under his feet, their falling like the end of youth. The wind scattering the petals sounded like the many voices of his enemies, and Yoshitsune traveled on with his eyes only on the road behind him.
After Yoshitsune’s departure by his own hand, the Lady Shizuka had been summoned before Yoritomo. In her womb was Yoshitsune’s unborn son. Dance for me, Yoritomo declared; show me your renowned skills! With broken heart, and terrible longing she danced against her own desires, her soul overcome with bitterness.
The two Lady Shizuka’s danced slowly, their sleeves gracefully sweeping the ground, almost but not quite touching, almost but not quite intertwined. There was an old poem about love, about wishing that there was a way to make the past into the present – but for Shizuka the past brought only sadness. For her unhappiness was surely the only unchanging thing in this transient world.
When the wind blows through the pines on the mountain, and you see the cherry blossoms take flight – pray then; in memory of Shizuka.