Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Ichikawa Ebizo V as Shirai Gonpachi in Mikuni Iri Soga Nakamura, 1825. Oban Triptych.
Click here for a detailed enlargement.
Another of the archaic styled prints by Kunisada of the 1820’s, similar in feel and in design to the previous print. There is something otherworldly about these pieces, the shallow space of the theatre is well realised and lends the scenes a claustrophobic feel - the more so here with the figure of the actor Ichikawa Ebizo V bursting out of the screened room on the right.
There are many plays about the good man gone wrong… Shirai Gonpachi. His story is long and complicated and the different strands of his life made up many kabuki plays in the nineteenth century. Banished from his home for murder, Gonpachi arrives in Edo and falls in love with Komurasaki who works in a saki store; pictured here in the left hand sheet. Komurasaki is being held captive and forced to work for a gang of bandits and she urges Gonpachi to rescue her. The subsequent fight, in the print, sees Gonpachi and Komurasaki united. The life of a settled man does not suit him and he leaves her to seek his fortune. She goes into prostitution and they are eventually are reunited. Tragically, Gonpachi cannot afford to buy her out of slavery and so he descends into a life of crime and violence ending in his capture and death. Komurasaki kills herself on his grave. It is said that Gonpachi killed 130 people before he was executed by haritsuke (impalement with spears while tied to a crucifix) in 1679. At the time, people who were sympathetic to Gonpachi and Komurasake were so moved that they built a tomb in their memory.
This is a fine print by the effervescent Kunisada of the early 1820’s. Colour, impression and condition are all excellent… fine for the period. There is some wormage to the margins. A copy of this print is in The Victoria and Albert Museum London.
Published by Kawaguchiya Uhei.
78 x 37 cm.