The play is staged in ancient China in the capital city of the Shin (Qing) dynasty, Kanyō (Xianyang). Kannyō Kyū, is the extravagant, gigantic palace of Shikōtei, the “First Emperor of China.”
Shin had been in conflict with its neighbouring dynasty, En (Yan). Therefore, a servant makes the announcement that his majesty will reward whoever brings him the head of Shin’s former general Han Neki (Fan Wuji) who fled to En, and the map of the kingdom of En. Keika (Jing Ke) and Shin Buyō (Qin Wuyang) from En have received orders to assassinate Shikōtei and go to Kannyō Kyū with the map of En and Han Neki’s head.
The two are shown into the palace, and are on their way to assassinate the emperor, but as they climb the staircase made of gold, silver and precious gems, Shin Buyō starts shaking from fear. Keika tries to hide their intentions, and says that Shin Buyō must be nervous because he had never seen such a glorious sight. Then, they enter the hall in which Shikōtei awaits them to give his audience. First, Shin Buyō presents the head of Han Neki, and then Keika opens the lid of the box with the map of the kingdom of En, and they step back. Shikōtei notices that there is a sword in the bottom of the box, and tries to get off his throne, but Keika grabs the emperor’s sleeve and presses the sword against his heart in an attempt to kill him. Shikōtei begs the two to let him listen to Lady Kayō’s koto (a long, traverse zither) before he dies, and his wish is granted. Lady Kayō is a magnificent koto player, the best among his thousands of mistresses.
Lady Kayō plays a special composition of koto music that only master players are allowed to learn, and secretly sends signals to Shikōtei. After receiving the Lady’s message, the emperor tears off the sleeve that was grabbed by Keika, jumps over the folding screens, and hides behind a column. The enraged Keika throws the sword at him, but the attempt fails. The two are countered attacked by the emperor and his subjects. Subsequently, Shin went to war and demolished En.
Kannyō Kyū is a play depicting the failed attempt to assassinate Shikōtei, the “First Emperor,” of Shin (Qing) in ancient China. It is based on an adaption of the legend in the Tales of Heike written in medieval Japan. Shikōtei was the first emperor to rule a united China after the long era of the Warring States. The sheer grandness of his power is displayed in the depiction of Kannyō Kyū, the palace which was magnificent both in scale and beauty, and where his three thousand wives lived. Fittingly, for a ruler who reached the absolute pinnacle of power, the main actor demonstrates the dignity of Shikōtei.
This play has a larger cast than most noh plays. Also, while the shite actors (the type of actors who usually play the lead roles) play the roles of Shikōtei, Lady Kayō and her ladies in waiting, the waki actors (the actors who usually play the side roles) play the roles of Keika, Shin Buyō, and the ministers that serve Shikōtei. In particular, Keika and Shin Buyō are often at the center of focus in the key scenes.
The climax of the scene features an animated scene of action that occurs when Keika and Shinbuyō are almost about to fulfil their mission of assassination, and yet, they are counterattacked by the emperor and his subjects.
The highlight of the chanting parts of this play is the scene called Koto no dan (the Koto Scene) in which Lady Kayō exquisitely plays the koto and displays all her sublime mastery in the desperate situation when Shikōtei’s life is threatened. Although the koto will not actually be brought on stage to play, this section has an elegant lyrical chanting by the chorus that narrates how the lady plays the koto. The section is also often sung independently, as in an a cappella performance.
Over all, this play has features of a more dramatic taste than other noh plays because of the dynamics of the story and its presentation which makes it stand out as unique and interesting to see.