Kunisada, Scene from Nanso Satomi Hakkenden

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Scene from the Kabuki Play Nanso Satomi Hakkenden, 1857. Oban Triptych.

In stark contrast to the preceding print, this fabulous triptych from thirty years later bursts with colour and a density quite different from the earlier piece. Reflecting the boldness and confidence of Kunisada’s later years, the colour and composition… the richness of both, also show the still unacknowledged debt that Edo ukiyo-e had to its colleagues in Osaka.  It’s a great composition, this rolling, energetic and vibrant piece, relying on the rhythm of the figures, (the rich colours and patterns of their clothing), set against the unifying background of nocturnal grasses.

The story is one of the strangest, most popular and mysterious in Japanese folk history, occuring frequently in Japanese woodblock prints and in kabuki theatre. The Eight Dog Heroes or Hakkenden as it is known, was originally conceived as a novel which took thirty years to complete; it was quickly turned into a popular kabuki play. The complex plot centres on the eight offspring of a supernatural marriage between a princess and her father’s dog. Shamed at the birth of her children, she kills herself and the eight beads of her rosary, each representing a Buddhist virtue, become crystal orbs and disperse, the children being reborn to normal mothers sixteen years later. The plot twists and turns as the eight brothers become acquainted as adults. This scene shows two of the brothers, Inusaka Keno (played by Iwai Kumesaburo) and Inuta Kobungo (played by Arashi Kichisaburo) fighting with the villain Yamabayashi Fusahachi (played by Seki Sanjuro).

A great Kunisada triptych, very fine colour and impression in excellent condition.

Published by Maruya Jinpachi.