Kunichika, Onoe Kikugoro V and Nakamuro Sajuro as Sasahara Kogen and Takegami Shira in Minohara's Death at Kichi Pass

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Onoe Kikugoro V and Nakamuro Sajuro as Sasahara Kogen and Takegami Shira in Minohara's Death at Kichi Pass, 1898. Oban triptych.

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Right at the end of Kunichika’s prolific life is this dazzling triptych, brilliantly coloured in Meiji reds and blues. This is a puzzling triptych because whilst the names of the actors and the characters and even the event/play is named by the Fine Arts Museum San Fransisco, there no evidence of the subject matter in the historical record nor of the play that inspired the print.

What we see here that tremendous rearing horse, the rider struggling to control it, with sword in hand. Onoe Kikugoro V was a tremendously famous and successful kabuki actor and it is odd there is no mention of his appearance in this play. I think that there is a better chance that the character on horseback is in fact the Satsuma soldier Shinohara Kunimoto.  Kunichika portrayed Kikugoro as Shinohara Kunimoto in his series One Hundred Roles of Baiko in 1894 in a remarkably similar fashion, even down to the horse and exploding cannonade of bullets.

This might well make the other actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Saigo Takamori, who led the Satsuma rebellion against the Meiji army in 1877. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when reformers (ironically from the southern Satsuma region) forcibly restored the titular Emperor, dislodging the centuries old Tokugawa Shogunate, there remained considerable disquiet amongst the old samurai class. The new government reforms led to the marginalisation of traditional values and in 1877 there commenced a final, brief civil war. The outcome was the defeat of traditionalist rebels at Kagoshima in Satsuma.

A tremendous triptych filled with vitality and energy. Colour, impression and condition are all good. Burnishing to the men's jackets and metallics to the sword. A copy of this print which very interestingly has a different background of smoke, but is otherwise all the same blocks and publisher, is held in the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts. 

72 x 36 cm.