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Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), 1786-1865
Actor Kawarazaki Gonjuro I as Naoe Yamashiro
(Kawarazaki Gonjuro, Naoe Yamashiro)
signed Toyokuni ga within the Toshidama cartouche, publisher's seal Dai (Daikokuya Kinjiro of Bunkeido), combined censor and date seal Tori-kyu, aratame (year of the cock , 9th month, examined)
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 1/8 in., 37.7 by 25.8 cm
This very rare print depicts the actor Kawarazaki Gonjuro (Ichikawa Danjuro IX, 1838-1903) in the role of Naoe Yamashiro, who is in reality the farmer Jihizo, from the play Honcho nijushiko (Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety in Japan) which was staged at the Ichimura Theater in the 9th month of 1861. The play tells of a family which is thrust in the middle of a conflict between the Takeda and Uesugi (here named Nagao) clans. Jihizo, his wife Otane, and their child Minematsu live with his brother, Yokozo, a selfish man who lusts after Otane. Yokozo insists that Jihizo abandon Minematsu and raise Yokozo's own son as his own. Jihizo does so, leaving the baby on the frontier between the Takeda and Nagao territories.
Jihizo and Yokozo find themselves on opposing sides of the conflict, Jihizo with the Takedas and Yokozo with the Nagaos (though their respective alliances swap over the course of the play). This division becomes exceptionally personal when the prince Takeda Shingen finds the baby and returns it to Jihizo and Otane, only for an unknown assailant thought to be Yokozo, but later revealed to by Jihizo himself, kills the baby once and for all. The play centers on issues of duty to ones own and to other families, and the sacrifices necessary to maintain ones honor.
Aubrey S. and Giovanna M. Halford, The Kabuki Handbook, 1956, pp. 66-73