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Archive: Hokuei

Description:
(R) Arashi Rikan II as Karanashi Sakujûrô & (L) Asao Takumi as Daidôji Gakutarô in Chûkô homare no futamichi (Honor, Loyalty, and filial piety at the crossroads: 忠孝誉二街), Kado no Shibai, Osaka
Signature:
Shunkôsai Hokuei ga (春江齋北英画)
Seals:
No artist seal
Publisher:
Honsei (Honya Seishichi)
Date:
9/1831
Format:
(H x W)
Ôban diptych nishiki-e
37.6 x 51.4 cm
Impression:
Excellent
Condition:
Very good color and condition (unbacked; very slight fading of purple and red; very slight trimming; vertical album fold right edge of left sheet)
Price (USD/¥):
SOLD

Inquiry (Ref #HKE66)

Comments:
Background

Chûko homare no futamichi ("Honor, loyalty, and filial piety at the crossroads": 忠孝誉二街) premiered in 1792. The libretto appears not to have survived, but the drama was one of many adauchi mono (revenge plays: 仇打ち物), also called katakiuchi-mono (revenge-killing plays: 敵討物). Adauchi mono were admired for their dramatic presentation of vendettas — considered a prime example of absolute loyalty to the samurai code of honor. A subgenre of kabuki and puppet plays, they epitomized the portrayal of evil on the theatrical stage, reflecting an growing fascination of Kasei-period (1804-1830) popular culture with unfettered cruelty and cynicism. Actually, tales of samurai vendettas had been in vogue since the Genroku period (1688-1704) in books and plays, as readers and audiences followed aggrieved heroes or their families seeking revenge against villains who had slain the innocent. In some of these dramas, a prototypical role appeared, the akuba (evil woman: 悪婆), since 1879 also called dokufu (poison woman: 毒婦). Chûko homare no futamichi might have influenced the play Ehon Gappô ga tsuji ("An illustrated picture-book of the crossroads of Gappô": 絵本合法衢) — premiering in 1810 at the Ichimura-za, Edo — a masterpiece by the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV.

Design

The actors are depicted fighting at the Enmadô, a temple dedicated to Enma Daiô, one of the twelve Deva Kings and the great regent of Buddhist Hell (also Emma-o, or the Japanese Buddhist god of the underworld, from the Sanskrit "Yama"). Behind the actors sits a great statue or painting of Enma Daiô. (The truncation of Enma along the top is intentional and original to this composition, i.e., there are no additional sheets above.) As the judge of the dead, Enma catalogs the sins of those sentenced to purgatory and determines the degree of punishment according to Buddha's Law.

This design is most unusual, as the votive slips pasted to the columns offer a panolpy of names associated with producing prints (presumably for the publisher Honsei), along with, curiously, some geisha.

  • Block Cutters: Naniwa hori Kasuke, Naniwa hori Man, hori hangi Ichi, Edo hangi Ichi
  • Printers: Naniwa suri Iida, Matsu suri Toku, Edo suri, Tomo, suri Toyo
  • Geisha: Naniwa Matsui, Murakawa, Geiko Yae, & Oren

The setting for this tachimawari (lit., "standing and going around," i.e., choreographed fight scene: 立回り) is remarkable, making this a notable diptych in Hokuei's oeuvre.

References: IKB-I, 1-479; KNP-6, p. 247; IBYKS-II, no. 275; TWOP, p. 315; NKE, pp. 88-89