Kiyosada/Takakiyo, Ichikawa Danjuro IX in Just a Minute! (Shibaraku!)

Torii Kiyosada (1844-1901)/Tadakiyo (1847 - 1929) Ichikawa Danjuro IX as  Kamakura Gongorô Kagemasa in Just a Minute! (Shibaraku!), 1895.  Deluxe Oban.

This is a ravishing example of the late flowering of Meiji design - the last real example of the ukiyo-e style before it lapsed into pastiche and was swamped by the newly fashionable  frenzy for all things western and modern. One gets so much the sense of a country throwing off (or away) its past in the rush to be accepted into the burgeoning international culture, that prints such as this remain startling reminders of the richness of native Japanese art.

Produced in 1896 to celebrate the last great hero of the Danjuro line - a dynasty of actors going back in a line unbroken since 1675 - this print was designed and printed the year after Japan had triumphed over China in a very modern and very decisive military victory. But this print, unlike nearly every other produced that year, looks back to a culture of drama, superstition, folktale and values that would soon be all but forgotten.
The luxurious print by the father and son artists Jusoso Tadakiyo and Torii Kiyosada, demonstrates the peak of technical achievement in Japanese woodblock printing. The surface is richly embossed and crackles with mica and the rich burnishing of  the lacquered blacks. The print is from the series Kabuki Juhachiban, which commemorates the eighteen great kabuki dramas ‘claimed’ by the Danjuro clan since the early nineteenth century and designed to showcase their unique aragoto style of forceful acting.

This print is one of the finest of the series. Danjuro plays super hero Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa, in a standard hour long performance that has been refined over the years since an actual occurrence involving Danjuro I. On this particular occasion, when his fellow actors refused to give him his cue to make his entrance, Danjuro dramatically shouted, SHIBARAKU!, and stepped onto the stage, making his entrance. The plot varies but generally involves the lead actor dressed in dramatic red make up and the traditional robes of the clan, stopping the massacre of innocent people by his great strength and presence.

This deluxe print is on thick, hoshu paper, deeply embossed and with burnished black ink and dabs of metallic ink and mica. The colour and impression are fine, the condition is virtually as new, with the printing and publishing details still present on the left hand margin.

A similar copy of this print is in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Publisher: Hasegawa Sumi.