Kurama Tengu (novel) (鞍馬天狗 (小説))

"Kurama Tengu" is the title of the series of historical novels written by Jiro OSARAGI in Taisho and Showa periods, as well as the name of its protagonist. The novels, one of the most famous popular fictions in Japan, depicts the activities of a royalist who called himself 'Kurama Tengu' (a long-nosed goblin who lives on Mt. Kurama) at the end of the Edo period.

Since it started in 1924, a total of 47 long novels and short stories have been published until 1965.

It was made into a movie many times. The movies starring Arakan, or Kanjuro ARASHI, were so famous that the image of Kurama Tengu recalled for many was greatly influenced by the acting of Kanjuro ARASHI.

Here we describe both the film versions and television drama versions.

Background

The series was set at the end of the Edo period, and some stories include historical events such as the Namamugi Incident and the Conspiracy of the Hamaguri-gomon Gate. Except for some early ones, the stories are not clearly connected to each other. (Some of the stories published consecutively in the magazine 'Pocket' were a series. "Kurama Tengu Taorezu" (Kurama Tengu is not defeated) follows "Tengu Daoshi" (Defeating Tengu)).

Cities of Kyoto and Osaka were the central cites of stories such as; "Kakubei Jishi" (traveling entertainers who wear lion masks and perform tumbling acts) and "Tengu Kaijo" (a circular on Tengu). But some stories took place in the Kanto region including Edo and Yokohama City, and others took place in far-away towns such as Matsumae-cho (Hokkaido). There are also some works that were published after the World War II describing events during the Meiji period.

Kurama Tengu as a person

He usually called himself Denzen KURATA which was not his real name. In some works he called himself Yakichiro TATEOKA, or Yukichi UNNO.
Regarding his features and figure, he was depicted in "Kakubei Jishi" as 'a man of about 165 cm in height, medium build, with a fair-complexion, a well-formed nose and beautiful eyes.'
Typically he wore a Sojuro hood and a kimono with the family crest, but without a formal haori (a Japanese half-coat) nor a hakama (pleated and divided skirt made in fine stripes) in films starring Arakan.

Though he was a royalist who was worried about the future of Japan, he was sometimes connected with Kaishu KATSU, who worked for the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), and also had a strange friendship with Isami KONDO of Shinsengumi (a group who guarded Kyoto during the end of Tokugawa Shogunate). (Among the original novels, his one-on-one battle with Isami KONDO was actually depicted only in "Kakubei Jishi"). He was quite critical of authority; after the Meiji Restoration he was sometimes negative against the Meiji government.

He was a top swordsman in the Itto school. Sometimes he also used Tanzutsu (pistol). His past remained in mystery; there was a rumor that he was probably a survivor of the Tengu-to (Tengu Party), but this is unconfirmed. The author seemed to have a plan that Kurama Tengu would be killed in a street fight during the Paris Commune that was also the stage of Osaragi's another work "Pari Moyu" (Paris Burns).

People who were associated with Kurama Tengu

Sugisaku,

a boy (actually a girl) who loved Kurama Tengu calling him pop.

Kurohime no Kichibei,

who once was a thief, and now a right-hand of Kurama Tengu.

All the works of Kurama Tengu

The classification into long novels and short stories was done by Koichi FUKUSHIMA.

Movie versions

The movie versions of Kurama Tengu start from "Nyonin Jigoku" (Hell with Women) starring Ensho JITSUKAWA in 1924 to "Shin Kurama Tengu, Gojozaka no Ketto" (The Dual at the Slope of Gojo, The New Kurama Tengu) starring Raizo ICHIKAWA (the eighth Kurama Tengu) in 1965. A total of nearly sixty movies were produced, and various actors played the role of Tengu. Among the original novels, "Kakubei Jishi" and "Tengu Kaijo" were made into films several times.

Kurama Tengu by Arakan was the most famous because more than forty films starred Kanjuro ARASHI (at that time known by the name of Chozaburo ARASHI).

But many of the "Kurama Tengu" films produced before World War II were lost, and are unable to be watched now.

Arakan and Kurama Tengu

Soon after having joined the company of Makino, Arashi was handed the 1927 March issue of the Shonen Club (Boys' Club) magazine by Shozo MAKINO who said, 'Choose a role that you want to play from the stories here.'
Reading "Kakubei Jishi," he said that he wanted to play Kurama Tengu, and thus Arashi made his screen debut in "Kurama Tengu Yobun, Kakubei Jishi" (A Side Story of Kurama Tengu, Kakubei Jishi). Since then, Arashi was considered most suitable for the role and performed Kurama Tengu in more than forty movies produced by several film studios: Kan Pro (production), Toa Kinema, Shinko (Shinko Kinema Production), Nikkatsu (Nikkatsu Corporation), Toho (Toho Co., Ltd.), and Toei (Toei Company, Ltd.). Those films with the exciting sword fights in which Kurama Tengu played by Arashi slashed down his enemies one after another continued to charm audiences for a long time.

However, Osaragi, the original author, was dissatisfied with this. In 1954 Osaragi demanded that Arashi stop performing Kurama Tengu, claiming that his copyright was ignored, his titles were stolen and the original content was rewritten, and Kurama Tengu in the films slashed too many people with his sword, which was against Osaragi's intention. So, Osaragi himself established 'Tengu Productions,' took up the position of producer, and began producing "Shin Kurama Tengu" series starring Akio KOBORI in the same year. It is said that a huge sum of money equal to the costs of filming five Kurama Tengu movies by Arakan, was used for each movie.

Shin Kurama Tengu attracted much attention at first since the film was produced by the author himself. But once the film was on screen, Kobori as the character of Tengu was always compared with Arashi and severely criticized. It was an obvious mistake in casting when Kyo SHIMURA, already in his fifties and had been performing grandfatherly roles was selected for the role of Isami KONDO. Furthermore, at the climax of the story, Tengu only pointed his gun at his enemy, preached about the good cause and retreated without fighting which completely ignored the framework and style of historical drama that the spectators loved. Without stirring any sense of excitement, the contents were, in a sense, nothing but for Osaragi's self-satisfaction. Of course there was no reason for such a product to be successful, and it was a terrible box-office failure.
It came to a miserable end when it was severely criticized as 'the flop that would go down in Japanese movie history,' or 'Osaragi stained his own career as a writer.'
It also hampered the acting career of Kobori, who performed Tengu.

Shin Kurama Tengu' produced by Osaragi, starring Kobori was a box-office bomb, and each film made movie theater owners increasingly vocal about their dissatisfaction, grudges, and protests against Osaragi. In the end, Osaragi could not disprove the harsh criticism of his films being trash and did not shoot the ten films as scheduled but finished with the third film "Shin Kurama Tengu, Yudachi no Bushi" (The New Kurama Tengu, The Samurai in the Shower). The movie theater owners who had lost huge sums of money three times over "Shin Kurama Tengu" strongly demanded from Osaragi the revival of Arakan as Kurama Tengu to compensate for their damages.

Even the great author Osaragi had to accept their proposal, and thus the Kurama Tengu played by Arakan returned. But because of these circumstances, Arashi was not very enthusiastic; only two films were made, and that was the end of it. After that, Chiyonosuke AZUMA and Raizo ICHIKAWA performed Tengu in the movies, but neither of them made many films.