Kunichika, 100 Roles of Baiko - Okazaki Neko (Cat Demon of Okazaki)

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) The Actor Onoe Kikugoro V (Onoe Baiko) as  Okazaki neko (Cat Demon of Okazaki), from the series One Hundred Roles of Baiko, 1893. Oban.

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Undoubtedly the most dramatic design of the entire series, this portrait is of the cat demon of Okazaki. Okazaki is a post station on the Tokaido highway and legend had it that a neko - cat demon - inhabited a temple on the outskirts of the town. It was her habit to lure young women to their deaths disguised as an old woman. There are several related myths and  an equally large number of kabuki plays on the theme.

The play celebrated in this print is Okazaki no Neko. The plot involves the theft and eventual return of the usual ancient sword and family seal. Into this is woven two popular comic characters: Yaji and Kita from a hugely popular play, Travelling Alone to the Fifty-three Stations. In initial performances, audiences were expecting light drama, What they got instead was a spectacular series of scenes: scary, sexy and comic; reworking all Nanboku's favourite themes; including a monstrous cat; and changing one of the most famous mother and son couples in Kabuki - keeping the names but changing what they do drastically, transforming them into a pair of adult lovers. The play was a long-running hit and inspired many plays with spectacular scenic effects.

The scene depicted here is a long way into the play the full story is available on kabuki21, from which the following description of scene 19 is taken:

Two cats come out and start playing with Shigenoi's kimono. They approach Osan, who is in reality the giant cat-spirit in human guise. They dance together, the two cats dancing on their two hind legs. Okura emerges from the rear room and screams in horror when she discovers the dancing cats. Osan turns around, saying there is nothing to be startled about. Osan asks Okura to put oil in the lamp in that room too. The two women discuss together and Osan learns to her satisfaction that Okura was born in the year of the rat. Then, Osan gives her the altar cloth and the memorial tablet of Shuzen. These objects will be Okura's blanket and pillow for this night. Okura accept them with mixed feelings and goes back to the inner room.

After all is still for the night, Osan slips over to the lamp and starts to sip the fish oil. Her shadow is reflected on the wall in the form of a giant demonic cat, revealing her true identity. Okura screams when she sees what is going on and starts to run away. Osan catches up with her, however, and glares at her, suddenly taking on the appearance of a giant evil cat-spirit.

The cat-spirit kills Okura and pulls her away to another room. A while later Osan returns to the room in her former appearance as Osan, but with blood on her face. She washes the blood off her face.

Suddenly, the baby starts to cry again. So Osode comes out with her baby and deeply apologizes to Osan for the noise. Osan is afraid for a moment that Osode may have seen her in her real form, but Osode acts normally. However, Osode does not show her real feeling as she is beginning to be suspicious of Osan. As the baby continues to cry, Osode is about to leave the room to fetch some medicine from another room when the baby is suddenly pulled away by some mysterious and powerful force. When Osode tries to retrieve the baby, a huge cat's paw appears and strikes her in the face.

In this design Kunichika pictures Osan the grimacing cat witch; her true nature revealed by the shadow of a paw behind the lantern, and of course by the unmistakable ears. The supporting role in the upper right is the actor Nakamura Shikan. The print is deeply embossed throughout with mica added to the blue parts of the robe.

A deluxe edition print in fine condition. Strong impression, unfaded colours, fine condition throughout. The embossed white mane is exceptionally clean.

The story was made into a well regarded film, Ghost Cat of the Okazaki Upheaval by Bin Kato in 1954.

Signed Toyohara Kunichika hitsu. Published by Fukuda Kamajiro.

38 x 26 cm.