This play was written in 1747 by Takeda Izumo, Miyoshi Shoraku and Namiki Senryu, and is considered one of the three greatest classical kabuki plays along with “kanadehon chushingura” and Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami.”
Generally speaking, kabuki plays can be divided into two groups: those plays which uses gidayu, the narrative singing normally used in bunraku puppet plays and those that do not use it. This play is a Jidaimono piece using gidayu narrative. Jidaimono, literally period pieces, deal with historical subjects and overall are of a form which emphasizes musical aspects.
To express the feelings of characters being portrayed or in telling the story line a narrative reciter, the taiyi, sings to the rhythmic accompaniment of the shamisen while the actors gesture to the recitor’s story, occasionally interjecting their own lives. The play resolves around the 12th century story of general Yoshitsune. This was a period of savage internal strife when father and son fought against each other in a war of political control of the government. As a general in the midst of all this, Yoshitsune has been portrayed as a tragic hero who, despite his chivalrous actions, comes to a sad and untimely death. “Yoshitsune Senbonzajura is the story of the events which take place while Yoshitsune is fleeing from the wrath of his brother yoritomo. This performance will be of the final section of the story which is known as shi no kiri.
Caught in the internal strife and losing all compassion and human feelings with which he is supposed to be endowed is compared to the fox, which as an animal is expected to openly possess the survival instinct, but instead suffers through its search for final piety towards its parents. The theme of the play then is this contrast between that instinct in man which leads to conflict and the feelings of human companssion and love.