Kunisada, Kawarazaki Gonjuro I as Danshichi Kurobei

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Actor Kawarazaki Gonjuro I as Danshichi Kurobei, 1860. Oban.

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A tremendous design by Kunisada… a truly outstanding print of the tragic and put upon anti-hero Danshichi. Danshichi is a real Edo everyman… a fishmonger, Danshichi is the archetype of the Osaka otokodate. The role was based on a real man, a fishmonger in the city of Sakai, who killed somebody in the middle of winter in 1697. The dead body was hidden in the snow and discovered in the spring, after the melting of the snow. This event was dramatised for the first time in 1698 by the Kamigata star Kataoka Nizaemon I, who played the leading role of Danshichi. Then, half a century later, in 1745, Danshichi became the hero of Natsu Matsuri Naniwa Kagami. It contains the most famous  and spectacular murder scene in kabuki - that is, the murder of Mikawaya Giheiji by his son-in-law Danshichi.

In the numerous plays and dances, Danshichi remains the desperate man: here is a character who haplessly tries to do the right thing but for whom the fates, the authorities, other people, his rivals, his employers and his family are continually frustrating him. He is an emblem of frustration and of plans gone wrong. This is why he is such an Edo everyman. His travails are those of the desperate urban dweller, scrabbling for money to pay the rent, desperate to find love, family and stability in a rat-race city where there is not enough of anything to go round.

Kunisada has created a memorable design from the typical features of Danshichi. Using only the famous rope and bucket of the story - the water here being used to wash away the blood of his victim… his nagging father in law -  Kunisada not only tells the story but creates an image of striking modernism. The silhouette in the background is of the festival, under cover of which Danshichi commits the murder. What is strange to our minds, is that these frankly terrifying characters… murderers, bandits, suicides, gangsters and extortionists should have been heroes in the eyes of the mainly middle class populace.
A superb print by any standards.

Colour, impression and condition are all fine. There is a slight centre flaw in the blocks, which is visible in other copies of this print.

Published by Otaya Takichi.

25.5cm x 35cm.