Kunisada, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Hiranoya Tokubei

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Hiranoya Tokubei, 1849. Oban.

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A dramatic scene, superb composition and beautiful balance… Kunisada pictures the hapless Tokubei, from the famous play Sonezaki Shinju ("The Love Suicides at Sonezaki"). Written in 1703 for the puppet theatre (bunraku), it was based on real events of the same year, premiering as a kabuki drama in 1719. What makes Sonezaki Shinju so novel is that it is the first Japanese play to take as its hero and heroine not an aristocrat, warrior or some historical personage nor a legendary hero already known to everyone, but obscure townspeople. This adaptation from life was to set the trend for kabuki, for novels and for woodblock prints for the century to come. The rise of townspeople - Edoists - was what eventually prompted revolution and regime change in Edo in 1864.

In this play, the prostitute Ohatsu falls in love with the clerk Tokubei. Tokubei is betrothed against his will to his employee's niece, the dowry is misappropriated and used by the evil Kuheiji to entrap Ohatsu. The situation for the lovers seems hopeless. Broke and pursued from all sides they hide out in a wooden hut. Kuheiji taunts Ohatsu whilst Tokube hides under the step. Ohatsu talks loudly of her suicide to Kuheiji and removing her sandal, she dangles her foot in front of her concealed lover… this is the sign that she intends a double suicide. The lovers disappear into the night, the final scene is of them walking the road to death quietly. Seven strokes of the temple bell mark the dawn; six have sounded. The remaining one will be the last echo for these two. This lovely print perhaps shows the tolling of the temple bell rope and the clouds of doom gathering above the doomed Tokubei.

A fine print, condition is good, trimmed to the image, impression and colour are fine. A copy of this print is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Publisher: Minatoya Kohei.

24 x 35 cm.