Hokucho, Actors in Igagoe Dochu Sugoroku

Shunshosai Hokucho (active 1822–1830) Actors Performing in the Play Igagoe Dochu Sugoroku, 1825. Oban Diptych.

Hokucho was a print artist active in the Osaka area during the first half of the nineteenth century. He was a member of the Shunkosai Fukushu school of artists, and studied under Shunkosai Hokushu. He is nowadays highly regarded but strangely only fifteen works of his are known. This print is fully in the Osaka style of Hokushu, a style also derived from Toyokuni I, whose influence is everywhere in this print. There is a real humanity, especially in the central figure of Ikezoe Magohachi. Prints of this period stay firmly on the side of illustrating the theatrical scene. Later, as western influences start to dominate, the backgrounds become more realistic and the prints illustrate the 'idea' of the scene rather than the scene itself as here. The backdrop here is visibly flat and the space is that of the proscenium.

During Japan's feudal period, there were people who could not be punished owing to clan loyalties. Under certain conditions, retainers and family members were empowered to take the law into their own hands and conduct an official vendetta. Igagoe Dochu Sugoroku is an epic based on a true incident of 1634 in which Watanabe Shizuma killed the murderer of his younger brother, a man named Kawai Matagoro at Iga Ueno, with the aid of Araki Mataemon. In the final fight, Mataemon killed several people, which has made him legendary as a master swordman and celebrated in theatre and popular novels. Shizuma's desperate search for Matagoro takes him throughout Japan and the success of the vendetta is due to the help he gets from others. The play focuses on the often tragic consequences of divided loyalties as people confront members of this vendetta. When it was dramatized, the names and details, and even the era were changed because of censorship by the ruling Tokugawa shogunate.

The Sugoroku of the title refers to a boardgame that often took the route of the Tokaido Highway. The drama is a long chase along the Tokaido and has scenes set in many of the famous staging posts.

These Osaka oban diptychs are uncommon and unusual to find in good condition. This piece is almost identical to the same print in the MFA Boston Collection.

Publisher: Toshikuraya Shinbei.

51 x 37 cm.