Home‎ > ‎Artists‎ > ‎Utagawa Kunimasa IV (1848-1920)‎ > ‎

Meiji-za Shin Kyogen - Soga Taimen (Soga Brothers Confrontation: A New Play at the Meiji-za)


 Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Meiji-za Shin Kyōgen - Soga Taimen

(Soga Brothers Confrontation: A New Play

at the Meiji-za)

by Utagawa Kunimasa IV, 1902

IHL Cat. #847

About This Print

Five actors, from right to left, Ichikawa Enjō 市川莚女 as Keshōzaka Shōshō 化粧坂少将, Ichikawa Enshō II 市川莚舛升 as Kobayashi Asahina 小林朝比奈 (with kumadori makeup), Ichikawa Sadanji 市川左団次 as Kudō Suketsune 工藤祐経, Sawamura Tosshō III 沢村訥升 as Soga Jūrō 曾我十郎 and Ichikawa Yonezō III 市川米蔵 as Soga Gorō 曾我五郎.

In this scene Gorō (on the left in the red robe) challenges Kudō (center) while Jūrō (below and to the right of his brother Gorō) reproves his brother.

Caught in the Act: Woodblock Kabuki Prints from the Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints
July 29 - September 3, 2017 in the Tanabe Gallery at the Portland Japanese Garden


Over-the-top stage performances have captivated audiences of kabuki since its inception in the early 1600s - but the role of immortalizing those theatrical moments has long been played by woodblock prints.  The print in this exhibition are from the private collection of Irwin Lavenberg.  They illustrate the vibrant style of ukiyo-e, pictures of the floating world, which brought colorful images of the stage and demimonde into the hands of an eager public with the rise of Japan's urban culture in the 17th century.

Unlike fine art, woodblock printmaking was a commercial enterprise.  Publishers, who were the businessmen behind the production process, rushed to sell print of the latest theatrical sensation to eager kabuki fans.  It was the publishers who commissioned artists to design the graphics, which workshops of carvers chiseled into planks of cherry wood, a different one for each color.

Woodblock prints changed as fashions and production evolved over the years.  The prints on view here date to the Meiji Period (1868-1912), after Edo had become Tokyo, when Japan was modernizing rapidly. New technology introduced from the West meant the introduction of brilliant colors derived from synthetic
dyes that smacked of evolving times.  Even so, traditions in kabuki print design remained: details masterfully rendered; cartouches giving the actor's name and role; the action unfolding across multiple sheets of paper.

Historical epics, famous romances, thrilling tales of the occult, and swashbuckling heroes kept the theaters booming and kept the woodblock print industry thriving.  The success of kabuki is inexorably linked to its portrayal in prints, one lending intensity to the other and delivering to viewers even now the dynamic jolt of stories powerfully told.
Courtesy of The Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints.
Many thanks to Irwin Lavenberg and print specialist, Lynn Katsumoto.

About the Play

Source: website of the Japan Arts Council http://www2.ntj.jac.go.jp/unesco/kabuki/en/5/5_04_14.html

This work is based on the revenge taken by the Soga brothers in the Kamakura period. Its common name is "Soga no taimen" or simply "Taimen" (meeting).

The Soga brothers, Juro and Goro, whose father was killed by Kudo Suketsune, visit Kudo's mansion. Kobayashi Asahina has arranged for the brothers to meet their enemy, Kudo at his New Year's party. Goro receives a sake cup from Kudo, shouts "Enemy who killed my father," and edges close to Kudo to kill him, but his elder brother Juro reproves Goro, saying, "Don't be so impulsive." Kudo implicitly lets the brothers know that he will give them the opportunity to kill him after he has served his term as general administrator for hunting by the Shogun at the foot of Mount Fuji, by throwing the brothers passes allowing them entry to this event instead of giving them New Year's gifts.

The incident in which the Soga brothers killed their father's enemy Kudo Suketsune was circulated to the general public through the story called "Soga monogatari," gaining popular sympathy for them.
In Edo Kabuki, it was customary to perform a work about the Soga brothers in New Year, and the scene in which the Soga brothers meet their enemy Kudo was always included in the program. The roles and makeup, etc. of the dramatis personae in the 'Taimen' scene gradually became stylized, with various Shuko (plot elements) being incorporated as the play was repeatedly performed. The present version of "Kotobuki soga no taimen" is based on the dramatic techniques used when the play was performed in 1885.

All works in which the Soga brothers appear are called Sogamono. They are still regularly performed.

Many of the dramatis personae in this stylized work performed typical roles. Soga Goro is played by an Aragoto actor wearing the type of Kumadori makeup called "Mukimi." In contrast, the elder brother Juro is played by a Wagoto actor with soft carriage of body and speech. Kobayashi Asahina is played as a Dokegata (humorous character) wearing the type of Kumadori makeup called "Saruguma," and he speaks in a comical manner. Kudo Suketsune is played by the Zagashira, the top actor of the company, and Oiso no Tora, Goro's love, is played by the Tateoyama, the top Onnagata.

The Actors Pictured

For background on the actors Ichikawa Enjō, Ichikawa Enshō, Ichikawa Sadanji, Sawamura Tosshō III and Ichikawa Yonezō see their respective entries in the article The Kabuki Actor on this site.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #847
 Title (Description) Meiji-za Shin Kyōgen - Soga Taimen 梅堂豊斎 曽我対面
 (Soga Brothers Confrontation: A New Play at the Meiji-za)
 Artist  Utagawa Kunimasa IV (1848-1920)
 Signature Baidō Hōsai hitsu
 Seal  no seal
 Publication Date 1902 (Meiji 35, 明治三十五年 三 月)
Tsutsumi Kichibei 堤吉兵衛 located at Tokyo Nihonbashi Yoshikawachō 5-banchi 日本橋区吉川町五番地 [Marks: similar to 26-134; pub. ref. 194]
Two columns of characters in the upper left (see below) state that both production and printing were done by the publisher.
作印刷 saku insatsu (production and printing)
兼発行者 ken hakkōsha (both done by publisher)

 not given
 Impression excellent
 Colors fair - printing variation in background of right panel
 Condition good- margins trimmed; minor soiling; minor ink offsetting in right panel; not backed
 Genre ukiyo-e; yakusha-e
 Format vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper
 14 x 9 3/8 in. (35.6 x 23.8 cm) each sheet
 Collections This Print
 Japan Arts Council 04128