Kunichika, 100 Roles of Baiko - The Hag of Adachi Moor

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Baiko (Baiko Hyakushu no Uchi): The Hag of Adachi Moor, 1893. Oban.

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Kunichika was an aficionado and intimate of all the great kabuki actors of the day. The actor Onoe Kikugoro V was one such a friend. He was a hugely successful actor who took the stage name Baiko from the pen name of his ancestor Onoe Kikugoro, who died in 1783. In 1893 Kunichika was commissioned by the publisher Fukuda Kumajiro to produce 100 prints celebrating the roles of the great actor. The series (like the Danjuro) was printed on the finest paper and used all of the deluxe techniques available to artists at the time; the surfaces are sprinkled with mica and lavishly embossed and burnished with deep reflective blacks and shomenzuri patterns.

The prints are designed to an identical format. The bulk of the sheet shows Baiko in a typical scene from the role; often the pose is a dramatic and emotional moment in the drama. Baiko was a commoner and espoused the popular roles of the time that showed the travails of the common Edo townsman. Many of the prints also show roles that no longer use traditional scenes or props… some of the characters sport modern, western cropped hairstyles, known as zangiri mono; or derive from dramas that illustrate characters from the Meiji revolution. This flexibility made Baiko a popular and modern actor of his time.

The upper part of the sheet is devoted to a scene from the particular play, featuring a ‘supporting actor’. Within that division there is a further sub-division describing the play and the plot, and in black on the far right is the series title.

The subject here is one of the great demons of Japanese mythology, from the play, Oshu Adachi-ga-Hara. The character of the Demon-hag, Onibaba in Japanese is ancient and can be traced back to the eighth century:

In those days her name is believed to have been Iwate, and she worked as a wet nurse for an aristocratic family in the Imperial capital. Then one day her high-born mistress fell ill, and Iwate was told by a seer that she could only be healed by consuming the raw liver of a pregnant woman. Ever the loyal servant, Iwate left her own small daughter to set off in search of a cure, eventually taking up residence in Japan’s then remote and near-uncharted northeast. Years passed until, one autumn evening, a young couple with the wife heavily pregnant approached her hut and requested shelter for the night. That evening the wife went into labor and her husband dashed off to seek medication. Seizing her chance, Iwate slashed open the young woman’s belly and began to remove her liver. In her death throes, the woman gasped, “I came here searching for my mother, from whom I’d been separated in the capital.” Then to her horror, Onibaba recognized a talisman she had given to her daughter in infancy, and at that moment realized she had murdered her own beloved offspring. Driven to madness, she turned into a full-fledged serial killer and cannibal. The exact number of her victims is not specified — nor likewise the circumstances of her death. (Mark Schreiber, "In search of the fearsome Onibaba," 2012).

This chilling and fabulous print shows Baiko as Onibaba clutching a fearsome knife, and the supporting part of Orime Asagaya, the hapless victim is shown in the upper cartouche. One of the best prints in the series, colour and condition are all fine, embossing to the hair and cartouche. Full size and backed on Japanese album paper.  

Published by Fukuda Kumajiro.

25.5 x 35 cm.