Kunisada, A Scene from Ichinotani Futaba Gunki

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) A Scene from Ichinotani Futaba Gunki, 1863. Oban triptych.

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Ichinotani Futaba Gunki ("A Chronicle of the Battle at Ichinotani"), was written in 1751. It centres on Kumagai Naozane (centre, played by Ichikawa Kodanji), who serves Minamoto no Yoshitsune of the Genji (Minamoto) clan, the general who famously defeated the Taira (Heike) forces at the battle of Ichinotani in 1184… seen in the right-hand sheet, played by Ichimura Uzaemon.

Sagami, (seen here in the left-hand sheet, played by Onoe Kikujiro) is an attendant to the Heike Emperor's lady-in-waiting, Fuji no Kata. She bears the child of Kumagai Naozane of the rival Genji clan, an act punishable by death.  She is saved by Fuji no Kata who helps her flee to Western Japan.  Fuji no Kata, pregnant with the emperor's son, marries Tsunemori, the nephew of the all-powerfull Taira Kiyomori and her son, Atsumori, is brought up as Tsunemori's son.

The debt of gratitude owned by Kumagai and Sagami to Fuji no Kata is known to Yoshitsune, as is the royal blood that runs through Atsumori.  On the eve of the battle of Ichinotani, Yoshitsune senses that destiny would cause Kumagai and Atsumori meet on the field of battle.  He knows that Kumagai must not kill Atsumori because of his debt to Fuji no Kata.  Yet, as a soldier, it would be shameful for Kumagai to spare an enemy.  To resolve this dilemma, Yoshitsune posts a note with a hidden meaning - "Anyone killing a son must kill his own son."

On the battlefield, Kumagai kills his 16-year-old son as a substitute for Atsumori (the heir to the Heike emperor).  Kumagai presents the head of his own son to Yoshitsune, to the shock of Kumagai's wife, Sagami. The head of Kumagai's son is deemed by Yoshitsune to be that of Atsumori, who is actually alive and hiding in a lacquered armor chest. Atsumori is then entrusted to an old stonemason, Midaroku, who once saved Yoshitsune's life.

Finally, assuming the form of a Buddhist mendicant, Kumagai takes leave of Yoshitsune and sets out on a journey to the land of Amitabha Buddha in the west, to pray for his son. From the depth of his sorrow Kumagai cries, "Sixteen years for my son have passed like the dew. It was a dream. Oh, it was merely a dream!” This description is taken from the site run by  the Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints.

This tremendous print is unusual in that it makes so clear the structure of the stagecraft and performance: the dais serves as stage and as the the interior of Yoshitsune’s camp. The tragic and famous scene of the head in the box is played out here. The large wooden sign that dominates the composition carries Yoshitsune’s instruction about the obligation to kill sons. If you look closely at the centre sheet, Kumagai is holding a round box which carries the head of his son.

The print is full size and unbacked. Condition is very good with binding holes restored. Colour and impression are excellent. 

73 x 35 cm.