Kunisada, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Jiraiya and Iwai Kumesaburo III as Tagoto-hime

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Actors Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Jiraiya and Iwai Kumesaburo III as Tagoto-hime  in Disguise, 1852. Oban.

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This is a great image… and a great theatre print. I say that because the striped background reveals to me the actuality of the theatre stage… the distinctive shades are the colours and design of the joshiki-maku, with wide stripes of persimmon, black and green. This is the official draw curtain for kabuki, used at the beginning and the end of performances. The joshiki-maku is positioned behind several gorgeously woven or painted scenes of mountains, cherry trees, cranes and other auspicious images. They are raised before the opening scene one by one by way of advertising (the curtains are prominently sponsored) or for enjoyment. The final curtain is the striped one shown here and is pulled sideways by stage assistants when the performance begins.

The performance here is Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari and the print is one of many that Kunisada made to commemorate the premiere of the play in the same year at the Kawarazaki theatre. Ichikawa Danjuro VIII played Jiraiya and Iwai Kumesaburo III played Tagoto-hime, both in disguise. Princess Tagota is lighting her pipe from a burning rope taper.

Jiraiya and his friend Tsunate have been thrown from a cliff as children by a snake demon. They are rescued by a hermit who teaches them their magical powers. They pursue the snake demon who is in the process of overthrowing the government in order to rid the earth of mankind and through complicated and magical means, end up confronting their nemesis with a magic sword. The play is long and has many twists and turns  in the plot, giving ample opportunity to the stage designers to add giant toads and collapsing temples.

Kunisada shows the actors as actors, in front of the curtain but in role. The actors are playing the characters in disguise as travellers. A great print.

Impression and condition are very good, colour is fine. Some embossing to the headdress. A less well preserved copy is in the MFA Boston collection

Published by Minatoya Kohei.

37 x 26 cm.