Kunisada, Nakamura Fukusuke I as Hakamadare Yasusuke from Toyokuni Manga Zue

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Actor Nakamura Fukusuke I as Hakamadare Yasusuke from the series Toyokuni Manga Zue, 1859. Deluxe Oban.

Click here for a full-size image.

"Toyokuni’s  Caricatures", (Toyokuni Manga Zue) is a very highly regarded series from late in his career. The set of prints were exquisitely drawn and reproduced, the first edition very lavish and the overall use of colour, ink and carvers spared no expense. The series was limited to a small number of images divided between portraits and kabuki scenes. The "Caricatures" of the title were famous people from history and myth, many of them magicians or bandits or, like Hakamadare, both.

The rich colours and many printings emphasise the brooding figure of  Hakamadare. We see him crouched beneath a crescent moon in a night sky, an ominous grey cloud - or smoke? - passing across its face. The gesture, the moon, the carapace body suggest suspense… this is one of the great villains of Japanese myth, of kabuki theatre and of legend. We can find him in the greatest of Yoshitoshi’s prints, Hakamadare Yasasuke and Kidomaru Fighting with Magic, 1887 and Autumn Moon at Tōin. He appears as a snake in Minamoto no Yorimitsu Fighting Hakamadare and the Magic Snake and again in the very famous Yoshitsuya print, Yorimitsu Tries to Capture Hakamadare by Destroying His Magic

So who was he? Well it’s all myth really but the best myth is that he was a 12th century retainer of the warlord Raiko. He refused to accept a minor role and left to become a bandit. He was in the habit of disguising himself in the skins of animals and from this presumably grew the legend that he could actually transform his shape by magic. He was cornered and killed by the retainers of Raiko and died in the shape of a snake emitting flames from his mouth.

The print is a fine impression, strong colour, some slight ‘frits’ to the edges, some creasing and the odd mark at extremities,  otherwise fine condition and remarkably clean.

Despite the popularity of the edition and the quality of printing, copies of this design are scarce. The carver of the block was the outstanding Horitake.

Publisher: Uoya Eikichi.  Carver: Yokogawa Horitake

37cm x 25cm.