Art Meets Taboo in the Tradition of Japanese Tattoos
signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi hitsu, artist's frog with Toshidama seal, publisher's seal Edomatsu (Edoya Matsugoro) and censor's seal kiwame both subtly printed in light grey to blend in with background of rain, ca. 1835, 8th month
oban yoko-e 9 7/8 by 14 7/8 in., 25.1 by 37.8 cm
The actor Matsumoto Taisuke is in the role of Yochibei, and the actor Ichikawa Sumizo III (1793-1837) is in the role of Sadakuro from the legendary play Kanadehon Chushingura (Treasury of Loyal Retainers, commonly known as The Forty-Seven Ronin). This unique series is based not on a single staging of Kanadehon Chushingura but instead on two rival productions, put on by the Edo Ichimura and Morita theaters.
Sadakuro stands in the rain, menacingly with his sword drawn, over the elderly Yoichibei. Yoichibei's daughter is the beautiful Okaru, who earlier in the play fell in love with the young warrior Hayano Kanpei. When Kanpei's master Enya Hangan is made to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), Kanpei attempts to join a group of ronin who intend to avenge Hangan's death. However, he is penniless, and must somehow raise funds for the groups. Yoichibei and Okaru, intending to help Kanpei avenge his master, decide that Okaru will sell herself to a Kyoto brothel. In this scene, Yoichibei is coming back from Kyoto with a heavy heart and a bag of gold when he is accosted by Sadakuro, who kills the old man and takes the money. Sadly, the tragedy runs deeper yet. When out hunting while aiming at a wild boar Kanpei misses and shoots Sadakuro by accident. Coming across the body, he impulsively takes the bloodied money bag in haste and returns to Yoichibei's house to share his good fortune. He arrives moments before a group of hunters bearing the murdered body of his father-in-law. With the dirty bag in hand, Kanpei is accused of the murder, which even he believes he may have committed, as he had neglected to check the identity of his victim before stealing away with the money bag. Once the other ronin refuse to bring him into their company, an entirely distraught Kanpei commits seppuku himself in the hopes of restoring his honor and freeing Okaru from her obligation to the brothel.
Series: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers
Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art
Publisher: Edoya Matsugoro
Aubrey S. and Giovanna M. Halford, The Kabuki Handbook, 1956, pp. 138-165
Museum of Fine Art, Boston (mfa.org), accession no. 11.2186
Museum of Fine Art, Boston (mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.27830 (Morita Theater playbill, ca. 1835)
Japanese, 1797-1861, Japan, based in Japan