Kunisada, Actors in a Scene from Ukiyozuka Hiyoku no Inazuma

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) Actors in a Scene from Ukiyozuka Hiyoku no Inazum, 1861. Oban triptych.

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A very good partner to the previous print and almost certainly made as a pair from the same performance, this print shows a different scene. In this print the character of the aristocrat, Sasaki Keinosuke (played by Ichimura Uzaemon) is seen on the right; he has entrusted a precious scroll to Nagoya Sanza… centre (played by Kawarazaki Gonjuro). On the left sheet we see Nakamura Shikan playing the villain Banzaemon. The scroll has been deposited in a temple, Banzaemon is very jealous of the favours bestowed upon Sanza and (see the preceding print) is also in love with Sanza’s betrothed, Iwahashi. A complicated duel of deception ensues whereby Banzaemon steals the scroll, frames Iwahashi, compromises Sanza and ends with them all facing the sack.

The drama ends in the red light district of the Yoshiwara, a famous scene played in different productions, whereby the two men are swaggering around with their respective swords and bright robes but concealed under huge wicker travelling hats. The scene sums up the mythology of the Yoshiwara and indeed of all the red light districts all over the world. The fantasy of bold and reckless men in love with breathless, pretty women who have been sold into prostitution only to be rescued by a casual act of bravado. Whether it is Berlin in the 1930’s or Florence in the 15th century, the myth is powerful and romantic.

Look at the details of the kabuki drama… Banzaemon’s sword is called Thunder, Sanza’s Amorous Swallow; Banzaemon’s nickname is The Millionaire, Sanza’s Gutter-Rat… They call the Yoshiwara the Gates of Paradise, the chorus to their entrance on stage runs: In the Yoshiwara it is luck which counts above all. As they prepare to fight, the quarrel between them is settled by the owner of a local brothel who values their custom, she suggests they swap swords and there is a dramatic moment when each sword perfectly fits the other’s scabbard - symbolic of this barely concealed homo-eroticism.

This print and its fellow are great examples of mid century kabuki printmaking. The stories are deft and the images quick and exciting. The printmaking we take for granted perhaps, forgetting that these prints were made when Charles Dickens was a middle-aged man and Japan had yet to enter the modern world.

The sheets are unbacked, and in very good condition with the usual surface marks. Colour and impression are fine. A very good set.

74 x 35 cm.