Kunichika, Actors in the drama Asaki En Giri no Shigarami

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Actors in the Drama, Asaki En Giri no Shigarami, 1864. Oban Triptych.

Click here for a full-size image.

We know everything about this piece except who the characters are and what they are doing! Or rather, we know who they are but nothing about their story. The actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV is on the right… he plays an outcast, Jirobei. The character of Jirobei’s wife occupies the centre panel, played by Onoe Kikujiro II… arguing physically with Tamaya Shinbei, played by Ichimura Uzaemon XIV. Bando Mitsugoro VI plays the prostitute Mikuni Kojoro in the left sheet.

It is a wonderful and complex print, showing the interior of a poverty stricken house of the time. Details abound: the broken, paper walls; the empty fire pit; the ornaments and so on. A scene from one of the many plays at the time which used the everyday tribulations of Edo townspeople, crammed into poor housing like this, scratching a living and falling through chance into lives of crime, despair and death. True melodramas and in every way similar to contemporary television soap operas.

A great print, colour, condition and impression all fine. Two sheets from this print are in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.