Natori Shunsen, ‘New Versions of Figures on the Stage: Actor Ichikawa Sadanji III as Azuma no Yoshiro’, 1954, Scholten Japanese Art

with mica background, signed Shunsen with artist's seal Shunsen, published by Watanabe Shozaburo, ca. 1954

dai oban tate-e 15 3/4 by 10 5/8 in., 40 by 27 cm

The actor Ichikawa Sadanji III (1898-1969) is in the role of Azuma no Yoshiro from the play Modori kago iro ni aikata (A Harlot's Love in a Returning Palanquin). This gender-bending performance depicts Yoshiro and his companion Jirosaku, two strangers who meet traveling on the road. The sight of a beautiful woman on the road makes them excited, and prompts a playful adventure in which they sneak into brothels and pleasure houses disguised in different costumes. Over the course of the play, they dress as high born, servants, prostitutes, and courtesans, each time engaging in witty dialogue. However, at the end of the play, it is revealed that their purported identities are disguises as well. Yoshiro is in fact the noble General Mashiba Hisayoshi, and Jirosaku the notorious bandit Ishikawa Goemon. The two, who had not recognized each other throughout the entire play, are in reality sworn enemies. Once they realize their mutual mistake, the two engage in an inconclusive battle, swearing to fight another day.

Series: New Versions of Figures on the Stage

Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art

Publisher: Watanabe Shozaburo

Yamaguchi Keizoro, Shunsen Natori Exhibition Catalogue, Kushigata, 1991, no. 73
Kozo Yamada, Shunsen Natori: Collection of the Kushigata Shunsen Museum of Art, 2002, p. 49, cat. no. 60
Andreas Marks, Seven Masters: Twentieth Century Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Wells Collection, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2015, p. 86, fig. 6
Minneapolis Institute of Art (, accession no. 2007.107.5

About Natori Shunsen