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Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), 1786-1865
signed Gototei Toyokuni ga, publisher's seal Kyu (Yamamotoya Heikichi of Eikyodo), censor's seal Kiwame, ca. 1838, 5th lunar month
oban tate-e triptych 14 by 28 1/4 in., 35.7 by 71.7 cm
This print appears to record a performance commemorating the puppet master Yoshida Senshi (Yoshida Bunzaburo III, d. 1829) at the Yuki Theater in Fukiyacho, Edo in the 5th lunar month of 1838. Yoshida Senshi is depicted in the center sheet, in his right hand he manipulates a puppet of the ghost of Kasane, whose story is drawn from a 1692 Buddhist tale set in the Hannyu village. In his left hand is the puppet of the villainous Nikki Danjo, an evil magician who is a frequent villain in kabuki theater. The left and right sheets depict episodes relating to those roles. Though these two characters are remembered independently for their riveting and tragic tales, their stories were connected in the puppet theater and further intertwined in different kabuki adaptations. The kabuki plays Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki (The Date Rivalry and Okuni Kabuki, 1778) and Meiboku Sendai Hagi (The Precious Incense and Autumn Flowers of Sendai, 1777) were two of the first to connect these two legends and would be retold and reimagined throughout the following century.
The original tale of Kasane holds that she was the tragic one-eyed daughter of an evil farmer Yoemon who haunts her father after he drowns her in a river. In later versions, such as the one here derived from the Kinugawa Tsutsumi act in Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki, Kasane is Yoemon's deformed wife whom he forbids from looking in a mirror. This tactic is successful in preventing Kasane from seeing her own visage until the kidnapping of the Princess Utakata by the wicked Kingoro, pictured in the upper half of the left sheet. To save the princess, the well-intentioned Yoemon must acquire 100 ryo. He fears that Kasane will be hurt and jealous of the fair woman so he lies to his wife, telling her that they are desperately in debt. In a tremendous act of selflessness, Kasane tries unsuccessfully to sell herself to a brothel, after which she looks into a mirror and for the first time sees her decrepit face. Distraught, she goes to drown herself in the river near where Yoemon in trying to convince Kingoro to free Utakata. Kasane misunderstands the scene before her, assuming that Yoemon is buying a new wife. Enraged, she strikes at the princess with a sickle. While protecting Utakata, Yoemon accidentally kills his wife Kasane, whose spirit goes on to haunt him.
The right sheet is a creative depiction of events from the Goten (The Palace) and Yukashita (Below the Floor), scenes in Meiboku Sendai Hagi. Both tell of the efforts of the young Prince Tsuruchiyo's retainers to protect him and his family's hold on the throne against an attempted putsch by members of the Date clan, among them Nikki Danjo. In the upper right corner is an interior scene from Goten, in which Tsuruchiyo is bravely defended by his guardian Masaoka, who let's her own son die to protect the young lord. Below, Nikki Danjo has taken the form of a rat in an attempt to get at the prince. He acquires a scar when the prince's retainer, Arajishi Otokonosuke, pictured in aragoto style, strikes the rat in the face with an iron fan. Eventually, the coup is thwarted and Nikki Danjo and the rest of the conspirators are taken into custody.
James R. Brandon and Samuel Leiter, Kabuki Plays On Stage: Villany and Vengeance, 1773-1799, 2002, pp. 48-52
James R. Brandon and Samuel Leiter, Kabuki Plays On Stage: Darknes and Desire, 1804-1886, 2002, pp. 118-123
Arendie and Henk Herwig, Heroes of the Kabuki Stage, 2004, pp. 243-255