Kuniyoshi, Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Fujikawa Mizuemon

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Fujikawa Mizuemon, 1827. Oban.

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There is a very confusing kabuki play by the name of Hitori Tabi Gojûsan Tsugi (Travelling Alone to the Fifty-three Stations). This print is a scene, probably one of the last from that play that shows the actor Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Fujikawa Mizuemon, a villain. 

Hitori Tabi Gojûsan Tsugi was premiered in  1827 at the Kawarasakiza theatre. When audiences went to see the play by the famous playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV, they expected a kabuki version of the bestselling comic novel about the adventures of Yaji and Kita on the road. What they got instead was a spectacular series of frightening scenes and a sexy and comic reworking of all Nanboku's favorite themes, including a monstrous cat, and transforming one of the most famous mother and son couples in kabuki into a pair of adult lovers. The play was a long-running hit and inspired many plays with spectacular scenic effects.

The opening day was the 6th day of the 6th lunar month of the 1827; Kuniyoshi’s print of Danjuro VII is a commemoration of the premiere of the play and an important record of the performance. Kabuki 21, the excellent repository of kabuki theatre history has the full plot of the play.

The print bears an extraordinary similarity to a Shigeharu also in this selection, they are each a type of drama known as revenge plays. Revenge plays were admired for their dramatic presentation of vendettas — considered a prime example of absolute loyalty to the samurai code of honour. A sub-genre of kabuki and puppet plays, they epitomised the portrayal of evil on the theatrical stage, reflecting an growing fascination in popular culture with cruelty and cynicism.

We see the wicked Mizuemon, brandishing a knife. In front of him the costume of a sambaso dancer and the flames signifying a supernatural event. A fine and dramatic portrait of one of the great stars of the kabuki theatre in a particularly dramatic pose. An early and rare Kuniyoshi theatre print, colour, impression and condition are all fine. A larger than usual oban print.

Published by Kawaguchiya.

26cm x 39cm.