Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Nakamura Sojuro, Onoe Kikugoro, and Ichikawa Sadanji as puppeteers in Meoto Doshi Kokoro no Ura-Omote, 1878. Oban Triptych.
This very beautiful and delicate triptych shows three big stars of the kabuki stage as puppeteers and musicians. The puppetry in this case would have been incidental to the play as this was not actually a bunraku, or puppet play performance, but rather a play about puppeteers.
Bunraku was a hugely popular performance theatre for centuries in Japan. The puppets were large, complex and exquisitely modelled. The operators were highly skilled and spent years in training. Many of the popular kabuki plays of the period originated as plays for the puppet theatre and hence the links between the two disciplines was well trodden. For more information on the traditions of bunraku please see our blog post on the subject.
Kunichika has arranged the three players across the stage with great delicacy; as was customary, each actor takes a discreet sheet for himself in order that the piece could be sold as a single as well as multiple sheets. Kabuki though, is very formal and this arrangement also respects the space that the actors make for themselves and which must be respected when performing. Reading from the left Nakamura Sojuro is seen playing a shamisen, Onoe Kikugoro V as Terazaki Otokichi holding a male puppet and Ichikawa Sadanji holding a female puppet.
This is a rare subject and a very good print in good condition. The impression and the colour are both fine.
Published by Arai Enjiro.
72cm x 35cm.