Kunichika, 100 Roles of Baiko - The Ghost of Uto Yasukata

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Baiko #90: The Ghost of Uto Yasukata, 1894. Oban.

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All cultures are imbued with fear and reverence for the afterlife - none more so than the Japanese. This very fine Kunichika is from the great and late series The One Hundred Roles of Baiko; a series of one hundred portraits of the actor Onoe Kikugoro V (whose stage name was Baiko). There is some general misattribution to this subject and a deal of confusion… the kabuki drama Uto Yasakuta Chugiden (The Loyalty of the Horn-billed Puffin) tells a scene from the story of Princess Takiyasha, daughter of the deposed despot Masakado, who takes revenge against the families of her father’s assassins. One of these, Mitsukuni, is set upon by the princess and sorceress in a great fight amid the ruins of  Masakado’s palace. The subject of the print therefore has to be Mitsukuni, the title of the play usually being given as the lead character’s name. There is an unrelated Noh theatre play of the same name about the ghost of a hunter condemned to hell for his willful  killing of puffins - uto being the call of the young bird and yasukata being the response of the mother, a response used by thieves to lure the chicks to their deaths.

Kunichika pictures Mitsukuni as a ghost - evident from the floating flames to the left of the figure. He is bloodied and his image fades like a phantom towards the bottom of the image, an effect achieved with delicate bokashi (shading-off of ink). Elsewhere in the upper right panel we see the sorceress Princess Takiyasha in bold pose played by the kabuki actor Bando Mitsugoro.

It is a great and arresting image, the printing is deluxe and of the highest quality with tour-de-force bokashi to the ghostly robes and the greys of the background, which are strongly impressed with visible wood grain from the block. The print is untrimmed and carries the publishing information to the left hand margin. Early impression, colours unfaded, fine condition over all - some marks to the lower right margin.

Signed, Toyohara Kunichika Hitsu with Toshidama Seal, published by Fukuda Kumajiro.