Kunichika, Sawamura Tanosuke III as Hanaregoma Chokichi

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Sawamura Tanosuke III as Hanaregoma Chokichi, 1864. Oban triptych.

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This very brilliant triptych is by the Meiji master of theatre prints, Kunichika. It’s slightly unusual, the influence of Kunisada his teacher is very obvious but the quality of the printing, the complexity and the block cutting are very high for an artist at the beginning of his career.

The scene here is from one of  the several kabuki plays based on the old puppet bunraku productions telling the story of the hapless adolescent Chokichi. The play is Futatsu Cho Iro no Dekiaki, but the plot I am familiar with is for the similar production, Futatsu Chocho Kuruwa Nikki. The play deals with the conflict between what is expected of young, ill-educated males and what the greater demands of an organised society expects. The wider world of Edo Japan is represented here by the organisation of the prayer circle and the controlled plotting of the sister

Chokichi (played by Arashi Rikan III) is the orphaned brother of Oseki. Chokichi is wayward and fond of fighting; his dutiful sister struggles with the rice ball shop of their late parents and longs for Chokichi to settle down. He is joined on stage by Chogoro for a pre-arranged fight but they are interrupted by strangers accusing Chokichi of stealing their money. Strange purses full of cash turn up all over the house and Chokichi is saved from arrest by his sister paying off the aggrieved parties. Chokichi promises to reform and is supported by his rival Chogoro. At the close of the play it is revealed that the accusers are all members of Oseki’s prayer group who have agreed to the deception in order to reform her brother. The play would effortlessly translate to a contemporary urban setting in Chicago or London.

In this fine print we see the major protagonists assembled in a brilliantly realised interior with river views beyond. Interesting to compare the unusual perspectival space here with that of the Toyokuni I in the Chushingura print from 1790 also in this selection. In this theatre print, Kunichika opens up the space within a Japanese field, developed from the yamatoe style of traditional Japanese painting… it doesn’t make visual sense, but it explains the action. We see Sawamura Tossho II as Chokichi's older sister Oseki on the left, the hero Chokichi played by Sawamura Tanosuke III in the centre and his companion Chogoro on the right played by Nakamura Shikan IV.

The print is full size, in very fine condition, fresh colours and a very fine early impression. An early Kunichika of an unusually high standard.

Publisher: Iseya Kanekichi.

72 x 35 cm.