Baido, The Ghost of Oiwa

Hosai Baido (1848 - 1920) The Ghost of Oiwa from Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidanca, 1896. Oban Triptych.

A scene from the dramatic kabuki play Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidanca. In this famous print, the artist is Hosai Baido.  Baido took a confusing array of names in his career. He is also known as Kunisada III and Toyokuni IV, later Toyokuni V and Kunimasa IV. Amy Riegle Newland comments:

Hosai died from illness, age 72, on 26 October 1920 at his home in Asakusa-tamachi.  Following his death, his role in the history of Meiji actor prints was largely forgotten and overshadowed by the accomplishments of the more prolific, and creative, figure of Kunichika.  But perhaps we should re-assess Hosai's role and accord him a position, if not the most innovative of designers, then at least as a final figure in the long line of Utagawa school actor image makers.

The very fine print shows the tragic and disfigured Oiwa, appearing to her wicked husband Iemon in the centre panel. This is a great and dramatic scene, the assistant at the left has vainly parried the apparition with his sword but to no avail. Oiwa advances upon them, clutching her fallen hair and a print of spring flowers. The Ghost of Oiwa is a hugely complex drama - the bones of the story concern Iemon, who is married to Oiwa. He resolves to marry Oume but first must dispose of his wife. The family of Oume provide him with a disfiguring face cream that Oiwa applies and the result is one of the most dramatic scenes in kabuki theatre. Transformed with the mandatory face make up of a distorted and drooping eye, the actor starts to comb his hair leaving a mountain of fallen locks, revealing the final hideous transformation of the character. In the version illustrated here, Kobotoke Kohei, the former servant of Iemon, steals the traditional medicine of the Tamiya family from his master. Iemon catches Kohei and murders him. Then he orders his cronies to nail the bodies of Oiwa and Kohei to the opposite sides of a door and to throw the door into a river. The motive is to link Oiwa and Kohei as lovers. Famously, Oiwa returns to haunt Iemon in various guises - most well known in ukiyo-e as a broken lamp shade. She eventually drives him mad and he takes his life.

The play has a political subtext and was widely seen as part of the growing disaffection with the traditional role of women in Edo society. The dramatic revenge upon Iemon by his wife was an expression of the increasing intolerance that Edo women had with the outdated patriarchal society - out of step with the new bourgeois culture of the time. A 1956 film version of the play with subtitles is available on Youtube.

The print is in very fine condition and the edition is early, showing lovely woodgrain in the background. Colour and impression are all fine.