Kunisada II, Eight Dog Heroes (Satomi Hakkenden) - Morita Kan'ya XI as Inuzuka Bansaku

Kunisada II (Toyokuni IV) 1823 - 1880, Eight Dog Heroes (Satomi Hakkenden) Morita Kan'ya XI as Inuzuka Bansaku, 1852. Oban.

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Kunisada II’s Stories of Satomi Hakkenden, also known as the Eight Dog Heroes is one of the really great woodblock print series of mid-nineteenth century Japan. The artist is partly (and unfairly) obscured behind the towering shadow of his illustrious teacher and father in law, Kunisada I (Toyokuni III). Kunisada II worked in the style of his master, but never achieved the same level of success. His prints include over 40 series, mostly of actors, and this extensive series is by far his greatest achievement. The prints in this series were all produced to the best ‘deluxe’ standard with brilliant, expensive pigment, careful bokashi shading and extensive mica, lacquer and embossing.

The story was originally a novel which took nearly thirty years to complete, between 1814 and 1842, and appeared at regular intervals in 106 volumes… for Edoists it would have been similar to a long running Netflix season such as Game of Thrones. It was quickly turned into a popular kabuki play. The complex plot features 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. Each of the offspring carries the Japanese word for "dog" in his name. The plot is too complex to summarise, but there are numerous websites devoted to the story both as a novel, a kabuki drama and latterly as a video game and manga cartoon.

This extract from the excellent, lengthy summary on the Japanese Wiki site illustrates the complexity of this novel series:

Nanso Satomi Hakkenden is a fantasy novel about eight youngsters (eight dog warriors) bound by a fateful connection in another world between Princess Fuse, a princess of the Satomi clan in Awa Province, and the god dog Yatsufusa, set in the late Muromachi period. The dog warriors, whose family names contain the kanji for 'dog' in common, have a peony-shaped bruise somewhere on their body, as well as a bead of Juzu (rosary) with the kanji for humanity, justice, courtesy, wisdom, loyalty, sincerity, filial piety and obedience respectively (Beards of Jingi-hachigyo [eight benevolences and righteousnesses]). Born in different places within Kanhasshu (the Eight Provinces of Kanto region), they get to know each other guided by the fate while experiencing hardships, and gather together under the Satomi family.

In this print, Kunisada II pictures one of the eight brothers played by Morita Kan'ya XI (as Bando Mitsugoro IV was known in this year). This is a powerful portrait of the actor, the drawing especially on the hair and the face are outstandingly good… a very powerful design from a great series. Colour and impression are all excellent, some minor wear but overall very good. Oxidation to the pigments of the robes.

Publisher Tsutaya Kichizô (Kôeidô).

38 x 26 cm.