Utagawa Yoshiiku (1833-1904) Ch. 48, A Scene from the Kabuki Drama, Hatsumoto yui Soga no kyodai, 1863. Oban Triptych.
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This very fine triptych stars the unusual centrepiece character of a centipede. The scene is from the play, Hatsumoto yui Soga no kyodai and is very closely derived from a Kuniyoshi print of the same drama.
The play stars the rogue and all round kabuki darling, the character of Shirai Gonpachi - seen here on the right. Other parts and characters are: Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Sasano Gonzo standing and holding a spear with a giant centipede at the end of it, Bando Hikosaburo as Nisuke with the spear over his right shoulder and a purse in his mouth, and Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Shirai Gonpachi standing over Onoe Kikujiro as Yaeume, the daughter of Sukedayu.
The story of Gonpachi is a celebrated one and has been dramatised in many popular plays. In the second half of the seventeenth century, Shirai Gonpachi, a skillful swordsman of Inabi, killed one of his clansmen in a quarrel and fled to Edo. On his way he met a girl, Komurasaki, who told him that she was held captive by robbers, and that he, too, would be caught by them unless he hurried away. Gonpachi stopped, attacked the robbers, and rescued the girl whom he took to her parents in Mikawa. He then returned to the Edo road, met with another party of robbers, who would have despatched him but for the timely arrival of a man named Chobei, who rescued him and entertained him in Edo. In the Yoshiwara, Gonpachi heard of a new girl, just arrived from the country, and who was called Young Purple. She was no other than Komurasaki, whose people had met with misfortune, and who had sold herself to pay their debts. Gonpachi, deeply in love, decided to redeem her, and as he had no money himself, he began a life of crime, killing and robbing people to get enough money wherewith to buy her back. He was caught and beheaded, Chobei buried his body at Ekko-in, and Komurasaki came a few days later to kill herself on his grave. Their common tomb is called the grave of the Shiyoku, and the souls of the two are embodied in the legendary bird Hiyokudori.
The plot of this play seems lost and I cannot shed any light on the mysterious centipede (mukade). The giant Scolopendra is a legendary creature derived from a real life horror whose bite is severe. In legend it wrapped itself around Mount Mikami, above Lake Biwa.
The print is superb, the dramatic colour contrasts are especially effective. Colour, condition and impression or all very fine.
74 x 36 cm.