Kunisada, Iwai Kumesaburo III and Ichikawa Kodanji IV in Sannin Kichiza Kuruwa no Hatsugai

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865), Iwai Kumesaburô III and Ichikawa Kodanji IV in Sannin Kichiza Kuruwa no Hatsugai, 1852. Oban Triptych.

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The plot of the kabuki play Sannin Kichiza Kuruwa no Hatsugai is so complicated that there is not the space here to give even a passing summary. The entire complicated tale of long lost twins, mishaps over stolen swords and malapropisms etc. is so interwoven that I suggest visiting the page at kabuki21 for the complete synopsis.

The print by Kunisada is a stunning arrangement; a really fine design showing the final scene at the fire tower in the play, Under the Fire-Watching Tower in Hongo. Fire was a terrible threat for the vast city of Edo with its densely packed timber buildings and the distinctive black painted towers appear as devices in many ukiyo-e. The complicated plot involves three men all of whom have the surname ‘Kichisa’ The three Kichisa are: Osho Kichisa, a priest; Ojo Kichisa, a young pickpocket, who because of his girlish appearance often disguised himself as a woman; and Obo Kichisa. They are not in fact related by blood but come across each other one night after Ojo Kichisa steals a purse from a young street walker… enter the second, Obo Kichisa who attempts to steal the purse from Ojo and Osho who passes by and stops the first two from killing each other.  They swear loyalty to each other in blood when they realise that they all share the same name.

Three acts later and after deaths, mayhem and deceit, the three ‘blood brothers’ are cornered beneath the fire tower - pictured by Kunisada.  They are, from the left: Osho Kichiza played by Ichikawa Kodanji IV; Obo Kichiza played by Kawarazaki Gonjuro; and Ojo played by Iwai Kumesaburo III. The gate of the town in Hongo is closed, and it can't be opened unless the drum of the fire-watching tower is beaten. They are on opposite sides of the gate. Ojo Kichisa climbs to the top of the fire-watching tower, while Obo Kichisa fights with cops. Ojo Kichisa beats the drum and the gate is opened. Osho Kichisa suddenly appears on top of a roof, having escaped from prison. The three Kichisa fight with police under the falling snow. Their final pose brings the play to a close. The three blood brothers have decided to kill themselves here together.

Kunisada presents the dramatic closing scene, a classic and beautifully realised kabuki print. A copy of this print is held in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

An outstanding Kunisada triptych, and a strong, bold design. Colour and impression very fine. The condition is excellent for this type of print, on a hosho type of paper. The three sheets are unattached and have never been backed. There is a folding seam on the left hand side of the left sheet, owing to the oversized sheets.

Publisher: Kiya Sôjirô.

76 x 36 cm.