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The actors Iwai Shijaku, Ichikawa Komazō V and Matsumoto Kōshirō V in Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Iwai Shijaku as Masaoka no Tsubone , Ichikawa Komazō V as Arajishi Otokonosuke and Matsumoto Kōshirō V as Nikki Danjō in Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki

by Utagawa Kunisada, 1836

The actors Bandō Takesaburō as Oguri Sōtan, Iwai Kumesaburō III as Okoma and Onoe Kikujirō II as Kohagi in the play Sekai no hana Oguri gaiden

IHL Cat. #953

About This Print

From right to left, the actors Iwai Shijaku (岩井紫若) as Masaoka no Tsubone ( 政岡の局), Ichikawa Komazō V (市川高麗蔵) as Arajishi Otokonosuke (獅子男之助)and, Matsumoto Kōshirō V (松本幸四郎) as Nikki Danjō (仁木弾正) in the play Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki (伊達競阿國劇場).   It is unclear whether the three prints constitute a triptych as the left panel does not visually match with the center panel, although one does expect to see the evil Nikki Danjō (left panel) next to his true rat (子) form (center panel).  The center panel, which depicts the character Otokonosuke striking Nikki Danjō's rat self with his iron battle fan in the scene Yukashita no ba (Scene under the floor), does visually match with the right panel depicting the character Masaoka no Tsubone, giving us at least a diptych as issued by the publisher.

Each panel of the triptych contains the names and roles of the actors to the right of their figures and the left panel also contains an inscription to the left of the actor reading 一世一代 當 (isse ichidai, ōatari ōatari) meaning "Once in a lifetime performance, big hit, big hit!"1

The Tokyo Metropolitan Library archive contains the right panel of the triptych and the database of the Japan Art Council contains the center panel of the triptych.  While I could not find an image of the left panel, I did find in the Waseda University Library collection an 1839 print (January 13, 1839) depicting the actor Ichikawa Danzō V (市川団蔵) as Nikki Danjō which used the same blocks as the left panel on this collection's 1836 print, with changes made to the inscription in the upper right of the print and the crest pattern on the robe.

Utagawa Kunisada I,
Ichikawa Danzō V (市川団蔵)
as Nikki Danjō (仁木弾正), 1839
The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum
Digital Archives Collection, Waseda University Library 002-0122
Utagawa Kunisada I,
Matsumoto Kōshirō V (松本幸四郎)
as Nikki Danjō (仁木弾正), 1836
IHL Cat. #953

1 My thanks to the art historian Lynn Katsumoto for the transliteration and translation.

The Play Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki

Source: Kabuki Plays On-Stage: Villainy and Vengeance, 1773-1799, ed. James R. Brandon, Samuel L. Leiter, University of Hawaii Press, 2003, sections extracted from pages 50-72.

Meiboku Sendai Hagi (The Precious Incense and Autumn Flowers of Sendai) and its derivative play Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki  (The Date Rivalry and Okuni Kabuki)

While people often like to describe kabuki as having been performed in the same way for hundreds of years, this rarely has been the case.  Plays changed with each performance as different actors assumed the roles and fans expected something new....  Over the course of two centuries of adaptations, not only were new scenes added to The Precious Incense and Autumn Flowers of Sendai, but the story was almost completely altered from its original form.  Through all these changes, Precious Incense has proved to be one of the durable of kabuki classics, having had, with few exceptions, at least one performance annually since its premiere in 1777.

Precious Incense dramatizes historical events – an attempted coup, in 1660, by retainers of the Date household and the gallant efforts of loyal retainers to thwart the coup.  The scandal caused a sensation in its day.  Some earlier plays had dealt with the subject, but the first to bear the title Meiboku Sendai Hagi was staged in 1777 at Osaka’s Naka no Shibai.  It is usually considered to have been the play’s “first” performance.  The following year saw Sakurada Jisuke I’s (1734-1806) The Date Rivalry and Okuni Kabuki (Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki) produced at Edo’s Nakamura-za.  The popularity of these two works led to a 1785 adaptation by Matsu Kanshi and others for the puppet theatre, which used the title Meiboku Sendai Hagi, and this was then reimported back into kabuki, where the play’s development continued through the nineteenth century.

The play’s continuing popularity is undoubtedly due to the fascinating role of Masaoka.  She demonstrates unwavering loyalty even as she watches her own child killed before her eyes, an act she must endure with supreme stoicism.  Masaoka is considered the greatest and most difficult of all kabuki roles for a female-role specialist (onnagata).

Because of the strength of Masaoka’s character, the actor playing the evil Nikki Danjō must be of the highest artistic standing in order to share the stage with her.  The kata1 for Danjō go back even earlier than do Masaoka’s, to Matsumoto Kōshirō V (1764-1838).  Actors today will even go so far as to place a mole on their forehead, imitating Kōshirō’s, as homage to his masterful performance. 

The Scene Under the Floor (Yukashita no ba)2

(The entire room rises, revealing supporting wooden pillar underneath.  STAGE ASSISTANTS remove a red cloth to reveal ARAJISHI OTOKONOSUKE TERUHIDE, an exaggeratedly powerful [aragoto] samurai, rising from the enter lift to rapid tsuke beats.  He wears a green kimono with red trim and black and gold formal over-wear [kamishimo].  His face and limbs are red with bold red, white, and black stylized makeup [kumadori], all expressing his youthful strength.  He is seated with one leg holding down a rat, played now by a small, acrobatic actor in a rat costume [nuigurumi].  He holds a fan above his head in his right hand and his sword hilt ready in his left. Ki.)

OTOKONOSUKE: How strange. (Turning the sword hilt, he performs a mie to two tsuke beats.)  I, Arajishi Otokonosuke Teruhide, have been banished from my lord’s presence because of the lies of evil men, but I have set up camp here under his bedroom.  Now, from out of nowhere, comes this rat.  I can tell it is no ordinary rat.  (Mie to two tsuke beats.) Give up that scroll and disappear before I stuff this iron fan down your throat.

(Spitting on his hand and snorting, he again poses to two tsuke beats with fan lifted.  During a brief combat [tachimawari] OTOKONOSUKE fights the rat with large, slow, stylized movements.  He swings his fan at the rat twice, once down to the left, once down to the right in the “mountain” pattern [yamagata].  He flips the rat and kicks it back.  Each movement is emphasized by tsuke as well as loud beats of the offstage drum.  He hits the rat on its forehead with his fan.  The rat spins quickly on one knee and then crosses to shichisan, where it disappears down the open elevator trap [sappon].  To the sound of fast dorodoro drumbeats indicating the supernatural, smoke billows from the trap as  NIKKI DANJŌ – the rat in human form – rises on it, holding a scroll in his mouth and forming a spell with his fingers.  His grey formal garb and kimono echo his earlier grey rat costume.  His trailing hakama [nagabakama] must be carefully manipulated as he walks.  A crescent-shaped wound scars his forehead where the rat was hit on the head with the fan.)

1 In kabuki a set of stylized forms designed for one specific role and transmitted from generation to generation.
2 The author based his description on a performance staged at the Kabuki-za in October 1996 and a videotape of a May 1983 performance.

The Actors Pictured in This Collection's Print

For profiles of the actors depicted in this print please see the article The Kabuki Actor.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog  #953
 Actors Iwai Shijaku (岩井紫若) as Masaoka no Tsubone ( 政岡の局), Ichikawa Komazō V (市川高麗蔵) as Arajishi Otokonosuke (獅子男之助)and, Matsumoto Kōshirō V (松本幸四郎) as Nikki Danjō (仁木弾正) [in the play Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki伊達競阿國劇場]
 Series  n/a
 Utagawa Kunisada I (1786–1865)
Gototei Kunisada ga 五渡亭国貞画 
[Gototei [五渡亭] was Kunisada's most common (artist name) until 1844. It literally means "Pavillion of the Fifth Ferry" and refers to the ferry boat service owned by Kunisada's family.]

Source: http://www.kunisada.de/Liste/kunisada-signature-seal.html

 Seal  no artist seal present
 Publication Date
 1836 天保07 (Date is taken from the Tokyo Metropolitan Library database entries for the right and center panels.  Date for the right panel is unknown.)
Wakasaya Yoichi 若狭屋 与市 [Marks: seal 07-008; pub. ref. 573]
Publisher's seal appears on right and center panels only
 Carver  unknown
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  fair - extensive wrinkling throughout; remnants of backing paper; repairs verso to left panel
 Genre  ukiyo-e; yakusha-e
極 kiwame censor seal (appears on right and center panels only)
 Format  oban triptych
 H x W Paper  14 1/4 x 9 3/4 (36.2 x 24.8 cm) each sheet
 Collections This Print  Tokyo Metropolitan Library archive N074-019 right panel only; Japan Arts Council 04004 center panel only

 Reference Literature