Mirror of Magical Heroes

New Year's Outing Before a Suspension Bridge

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Mirror of Magical Heroes

by Toyohara Kunichika, 1877

Soga Brothers New Year's Farce

IHL Cat. #405

About This Print

A densely packed conglomeration of six magicians with their favorite conjurings.

Pictured, from left to right are:
The character 児雷也 Jiraiya1 [literally: child-thunder man or young thunder], played by Ichikawa Danjūrō IX  市川 團十郎, has conjured a giant toad allowing him to perform "toad magic."  By mastering the toad's magic and with the toad by his side, Jiraiya can overcome his enemies.
The character 綱手 Tsunade [literally: rope-hand; translated as towing line], played by Suketakaya Takasuke IV  助高屋 高助, has conjured a giant snail and has mastered "snail magic."
The character 虎王丸 Tora Ōmaru [literally: tiger king-round], played by Ichikawa Sadanji  市川 左團次, has conjured a tiger.
The character 雲龍九郎 Unryūkurō [literally: cloud-dragon Kurō], played by Nakamura Shikan IV 中村 芝翫, has conjured a storm dragon.
The character 暁星五郎 Akatsuki Hoshigorō [literally: dawn-star Gorō], played by Ichikawa Kuzō III  市川 九蔵, has conjured a bat.
The character 不知火 Shiranui [literally: unknown-fire], played by Onoe Kikugorō V  尾上 菊五郎, holding a scroll of spider spells on which a spider walks.

1 The same character sometimes is named Naruto.

Comments of Lynn Katsumoto

In response to my questions about this print and its amalgamation of characters, Lynn Katsumoto, Research Associate at the Portland Art Museum, commented:
Between 1861-64, Kunisada, using the name Toyokuni III, produced a series of actors in magician's roles called, A Contest of Magic Scenes by Toyokuni [豊国揮亳奇術競 Toyokuni kigō kijutsu kurabe].1

So, perhaps that was the precedent. We also know that kabuki performances in late Edo through mid-Meiji were full of spectacle and special effects, and so the possibility that there were a lot of shows featuring lurid magicians is plausible. Artists also sometimes imagined beloved actors in various roles, so that is also a possibility here.  Moreover, the triptych was issued for New Years, which is not typically when plays like this would have been staged.

Clearly the public appetite for the macabre was strong; further study will reveal whether the alignment of these stage stars and roles reflect actual performances, or played into a mood for the ultra-dramatic.

1 The series is archived at the National Diet Library

The Actors Pictured

Ichikawa Danjūrō IX
Ichikawa Kuzō III
Ichikawa Sadanji
Nakamura Shikan IV
Onoe Kikugorō V
Suketakaya Takasuke IV (see Sawamura Tosshō II)

For information about each actor see the article The Kabuki Actor.

Variant Printing

This state of the print appears to be an earlier impression or, perhaps, "deluxe printing," as was occasionally done by the publisher for a print that sold well.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #405
 Title (Description) Mirror of Magical Heroes (英優奇術鑑 Eiyū kijutsu kagami) or Mirror of Heroic Magic
 Artist  Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900)
 Signature Toyohara Kunichika hitsu with toshidama seal
 Seal  unread rectangular seal lower right corner of left panel
 Publication Date
January 1885 (Meiji 18)    January 1877
Left cartouche -
left column: 出版人 shuppanjin 井沢 菊太郎 Izawa Kikutarō
right column: showing address of Asakusa Uma michi 7 chome 1 banchi [Marks: similar to 26-042; pub. ref. 174]

Right cartouche -
left column: 画工 (picture made by) 荒川八十八 (Arakawa Yasohachi, the artist's given name)
right column: artist's address
 not shown
 Carver not shown
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition fair- full-size; not backed; worm holes mainly left margin of left sheet; minor color offsetting
 Genre ukiyo-e; nigao-e; yakusha-e
 Format vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper
 14 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. (36.8 x 24.1 cm) each sheet
 Collections This Print
 Japan Arts Council 07113