Actors Otani Tomoemon V as Adachi Motoemon, Nakamura Shikan IV as Adachi Yasuke, and Sawamura Tossho II as Hayase Iori
signed Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi hitsu, artist's seal Kiri, published by Marujin (Maruya Jinpachi of Enjudo), combined censor and date seal U-shi, aratame (year of the Hare , 4th month, examined)
oban tate-e triptych 14 5/8 by 29 1/4 in., 37 by 74.4 cm
The actor Otani Tomoemon V (Otani Hiroji V, 1833-1873) is in the role of Adachi Motoemon, the actor Nakamura Shikan IV (1831-1899) is in the role of Adachi Yasuke, and the actor Sawamura Tossho II (Suketakaya Takasuke IV, 1838-1886) is in the role of Hayase Iori, from the play Kujira Obi Nishiki no Shingata (A Sash of New Brocade Weave), staged in Edo at the Morita Theater in 1867. This is one of the great revenge plays of kabuki actually based on a historical vendetta, and is particularly remembered for its gruesome depictions of violence.
This composition depicts a scene from Act II of the play, in which Motoemon murders Yasuke. Though at first the play seems to be about Hayase Iori's quest to avenge his father's death and reclaim a lost painting, the true drama of Kujira Obi Nishiki no Shingata surrounds his betrayal at the hands of Motoemon. Yasuke and Motoemon are themselves brothers and both faithful servants of Hayase Iori. However, soon into their quest Motoemon's devotion for Iori turns into hatred. Far from remaining a loyal servant, he secretly switches allegiances and joins the service of Toma Saburoemon, the killer of Iori's father (and played as well by Nakamura Shikan IV). While in Saburoemon's service, Motoemon sneaks into the Hayase mansion and kills Yasuke, just barely getting away before Iori approaches to investigate the disruption. Motoemon is brought to justice at the end of the play, however not before killing his former master, Iori.
Motoemon was originally conceived as a supporting role, however when Otani Tomoemon V's father, Otani Tomoeomon IV (1791-1861), played him masterfully in 1835 the role was elevated to top billing. The elder Tomoeomon's performance received praise from the best actors of the time, notably Ichikawa Danjuro VII (1791-1859). However, this praise may belie a complicated personal relationship. A ferocious drunk , Tomoemon IV once had to be thrown out of Danjuro VII's house.
Aubrey S. and Giovanni M. Halford, The Kabuki Handbook, 1956, pp. 170-174
James R. Brandon and Samuel L. Leiter, Kabuki Plays On Stage: Villainy and Vengeance, 1773-1799, 2002 134-138
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.37583a-c
Philadelphia Museum of Art (philamuseum.org), accession no. 1978-128-112a-b
price: $ 1,500
Scholten Japanese Art is open Monday - Friday, and some Saturdays, 11am - 5pm, by appointment.
Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
to schedule a visit.
site last updated
September 14, 2019
Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475
Join our mailing list...