An exploration of the timeless appeal that the Soga story has exerted and the processes that took the brothers through successive incarnations in literature


Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies No. 13

For six centuries the Soga vendetta was Japan's archetypal revenge tragedy, and the Soga brothers epitomized heroic avengers, dedicated yet doomed. In Avatars of Vengeance Laurence Kominz explores the timeless appeal that the Soga story has exerted on the Japanese and describes the processes that took the brothers through successive incarnations in literature. Beginning as loyal samurai, they changed into Shinto gods, then exemplars of filial virtue, suave dandies, superhuman swashbucklers, sensitive lovers, and back into gods again. The heroines of the story also underwent changes, from exemplars of religious devotion in the medieval, oral tale to icons of romantic love and models of secular virtue in later versions. The most startling transformations in the Soga story and its characters took place on stage as theater changed and developed, fueled by the tastes of succeeding generations of audiences and new methods of stage presentation, by advances in performers' training and technique, and by changing religious attitudes toward the Soga deities. Kominz explains why plays about the Soga revenge so often marked new directions in dramaturgy and play writing. His study demonstrates that no dramatic theme better illuminates the dynamics of creativity in traditional Japanese theater than the Soga vendetta.

Laurence R. Kominz is Professor of Japanese Language and Literature at Portland State University, Portland, Oregon. Long a student and performer of Japanese drama and dance, he has recently focused his research on Kabuki, especially the connections b

"Kominz's engaging writing style makes this volume as enjoyable as it is informative."—Sonja Arntzen, Choice

"A book that may well be the definitive study of the Soga brothers' adventures as the inspiration for an astonishing number of dramatic works. . . . A most welcome contribution."—Stanleigh H. Jones, Jr., Monumenta Nipponica

"Kominz uses the story of the Soga brothers to give us a close look at the Japanese theater and other related topics. Anyone interested in traditional Japanese culture will learn from reading his book."—Robert Borgen, Journal of Japanese Studies

“A fine vehicle for a serious consideration of the dynamics of tradition and change within the Japanese theater.”
—Donald Richie, The Japan Times