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Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), 1786-1865
Actor Nakamura Utaemon III as Mitsugi's Aunt Omine
(Mitsugi Oba Omine, Nakamura Utaemon)
signed Gototei Kunisada ga, with publisher's mark, To (Yamaguchiya Tobei of Kinkodo), censor's seal kiwame (approved), ca. 1814
oban tate-e 15 by 10 in., 38.1 by 25.4 cm
The actor Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838) is in the role of Mitsuji Oba Omine, from the play Ise ondo koi no netaba (A Song of Ise: Love and a Dull Blade), performed at the Nakamura Theater during the 7th month of 1814. It was written by Chikamatsu Tokuzo, Tasuoka Mansaku, and Namiki Shozo II, and was inspired by a real life event involving a killing spree in Furuichi which took place only two months before the play's premiere in the 7th month of 1796. The focus of the play is a cursed sword that once it becomes unsheathed, forces whoever possesses it to seek out more and more blood. The story begins in Awa with the death of a retainer and then his son, before the sword passes to a younger son, Fukuoka Mitsugi, whose mother has also passed away and who lives in the care of his Aunt Omine, the role portrayed here by Utaemon III. She stands holding the terrifying sword, which she will ultimately dispose of and flee, living with young Mitsugi under an assumed name near Ise. The story continues with Mitsugi growing up to become a minor Shinto priest, but of course, events conspire to pull him back to Awa and within orbit of the cursed blade.
This appears to be an unrecorded impression of this print, although Kunisada revisited the subject with two related compositions: a version depicting the same actor in a seated position which was produced in the same year; and four years later in a composition that echoes this one with a different actor in the role of Omine in a similar position standing and holding the sword; both are in the collection of Waseda University Theater Museum.
Waseda University Theater Museum (enpaku.waseda.ac.jp), accession nos. 101-3781 and 101-3790