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Artist: Shunkōsai Hokushū (春好斎北洲)

Print: Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Arajishi Otokonosuke (荒獅子男之助)
on the right and Matsumoto Kōshirō V (松本幸四郎) as Nikki Danjō (仁木だん正)

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Dates: created,1821
Dimensions: 20.0 in,15.25 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock prtin
Inscription: Signed: Shunkōsai Hokushū ga
春好斎北洲画
Publisher: Toshikuraya Shinbei
(Marks 539 - seal 25-553)

Related links: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;

Physical description:

This diptych commemorates the kabuki play Hagi wa Sendai Matsumoto staged at the Naka Theater in Osaka in 1821. (The names of the actors and their roles are shown in reserve on the gray ground in each print.)

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The crossed scrolls motif seen on the costume of Otokonosuke is the Nakamura crest. This motif also appears on the robe of this actor in #355 in the Lyon Collection.

The flying crane seen on the same garment is another Utaemon III identifier.

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Here is some background for Otokonosuke:

Arajishi Otokonosuke (荒獅子男之助) is one of the most popular and iconic figures of the kabuki stage and hence the world of ukiyo prints. He is one of the most memorable figures from the play Meiboku Sendai Hagi or 'The Disputed Succession'.

Otokonosuke is determined to protect the life of his young lord, but is prevented from being in the same room as he. In the most dramatic moment in Act IV Otonosuke

"...has taken up a post below the floor of the boy's room. He is waiting there on the alert when he sees a large grey rat coming down through the floor carrying a roll of paper in its mouth. Otokonosuke puts his foot on the rat and tries to kill it with his iron fan. He wounds the beast on the head, but it wriggles away from him and escapes.

The rat vanishes in a cloud of white smoke and in its place is revealed Nikki Danjo, who has occult powers, clad in grey garments and with the document between his teeth. He has a fresh wound on his brow. He traces the character for 'rat' in the air with his finger.

Otokonosuke is powerless against him. Danjo goes off triumphantly having achieved his object of possession of the list of conspirators."

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Osaka Prints in discussing this diptych says:

Background

Hagi wa Sendai Matsumoto appears to be a reworking of the well-known Meiboku sendai hagi, a play dramatizing the intrigues over the succession within the Date clan of Sendai during the third quarter of the seventeenth century. Meiboku is a classic play, so popular that during the Edo period it had at least one performance nearly every year after its premiere in 1777, and it spawned a number of adaptations, as in the Hagi wa production at the Naka in 1821. In the play, Nikki Danjō conspires to overthrow Ashikaga (a theatrical substitute for the Date clan name) Yorikane, but he is foiled in the end and slain.

Design

The ghostly rodent is actually Nikki in metamorphosis — he possesses magical powers, including the ability to turn himself into a giant rat. Nikki holds his hands in the manner associated with nercromancy as the rat emerges from his human form (note the lighter shading of the tail and hindquarters, indicating that the transformation is still in progress). Nikki is a prime example of an important role type known as jitsuaku (or tategataki) — unrepentant evil samurai who plot to overthrow their lords. They are also referred to as kuni kuzushi ("demolisher of nations") to signify their intention to usurp an emperor's throne or a daimyō's domain.

The rat holds a scroll containing a list of conspirators planning to wrest power from Yorikane. Later, pretending to have reformed, Nikki will substitute another list and offer it as trumped-up evidence of the conspiracy, only to remove a dagger hidden within the scroll and mortally wound a counsel and ally of Yorikane's son.

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There are at least three other prints in the Lyon Collection with Otokonosuke in them: #833 by Kuniyoshi; #779 by Toshihide; and #894 by Kunisada.

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Illustrated in Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei (Collected Kamigata Actor Prints) Volume 1, Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka 1997, no. 100.