Hirosada, Ichikawa Ebizo V as Inumura Kakutaro in Hakkenden

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864)  Ichikawa Ebizô V as Inumura Kakutarô in the drama,  Hakkenden, 1850. Deluxe Chuban.

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Osaka theatre goers were fanatical followers of the cult kabuki actors and dramatists of the nineteenth century. Fortunes were spent in entertaining actors, attending performances and commissioning the very finest prints… mementos of performances and vehicles for poetry societies, wealthy coteries and clubs that were appreciative of actors' sensibilities.  After 1842, in an attempt to rein in these decadent excesses, a series of laws - the ‘Tenpo Reforms’ - banned the larger oban sized print altogether. Despite this (or because of it) the number of artists and the number of known prints that each artist produced actively increased. Although restrictions had eased by the time that this print was produced in 1850, many of the habits engendered by the reforms endured. The smaller scale was maintained in Osaka for decades to come… ostensibly these prints were more discreet, easier to conceal; but as this minor masterpiece and others in this selection illustrate, the intensity of colour and the sheer density of pattern at this scale produced a dazzling hyper-realism popular with collectors. The smaller scale also allowed the lavish use of metallic and other expensive pigments that would have been prohibitive on a larger scale.

Not only the physical size of the print was affected by these punitive laws; the subject matter also needed to appear morally sound. This print is one of a series of eight prints portraying the characters in the popular story, the Hakkenden, or the Story of the Eight Dog Heroes. The ‘Hakkenden’ are eight brothers who feature in the extraordinary 106 volume novel The Eight Dog Chronicles, written by Kyokutei Bakin (1767 - 1848). The complex plot centres on the eight offspring of a supernatural marriage between a princess and her father’s dog. Shamed at the birth of her children, she kills herself and the eight beads of her rosary, each representing a Buddhist virtue, become crystal orbs and disperse, the children being reborn to normal mothers sixteen years later. They reunite as adult ‘superheroes’, their names all beginning with the syllable for ‘dog’ (inu). Each brother embraced one of the Confucian virtues: Inumura Daikaku (Kakutaro) Masanori (his full name) expressed courtesy.  

This print shows the actor Ichikawa Ebizo V as Inumura Kakutaro. Kakutaro excels in one version of the play, set in the village of Tamagaeshi. The scene set in this village (Act II, Scene 2) is the highlight of Hakkenden  as told on kabuki21

This fantastical episode has at its centre a vicious old cat that can transform itself into a human form. The cat slays Kakutaro's father, then assumes his likeness. Having learned that Kakutaro's attractive wife, Hinaginu, will give birth to a baby in the year of the rat, the monster is moved to murder. Having sent Kakutaro on an errand, the creature momentarily betrays its feline nature when it licks the fish oil poured into the lamp. Before Kakutaro's return, however, it murders Hinaginu. When Kakutaro discovers his wife's body -- and learns the truth of the cat's identity (and his father's death) -- he retaliates instantly with the assistance of Genpachi. The threesome clash in a fearsome midair fight that culminates with the appearance of a giant demonic cat on top of the devastated house, with the ferocious-looking cat/Ikkaku standing by it, glaring down at the warriors.

In mint condition, this print sings with a harmony and vibrancy that is hard to describe… somewhere between an enamel box and stained glass window. There is deep, almost three dimensional embossing to the sleeves of the robe - quite outstanding. Colour and condition are all fine.

Published by Kukado Konishi.

18 x 25.5 cm.