Actor Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Natsume Shirasaburo, Actor Bando Shuka I as Mijin Omatsu, unidentified actor as Teshita Gansuke, and Actor Kataoka Toragoro I as Senri Toranoo
signed Toyokuni ga within the artist's Toshidama cartouche, publisher's seal Kyu (Yamamotoya Heikichi of Eikyudo), censor's seals Kinugasa and Murata, ca. 1851, 9th month
oban tate-e triptych 14 by 29 1/8 in., 35.7 by 74 cm
In the right sheet, the actor Ichikawa Danjuro VIII (1823-1854) is in the role of Natsume Shirasaburo; in the center sheet, the actor Bando Shuka I (1813-1855) is in the onnagata role of Mijin Omatsu disguised as Jiraiya, the male bandit of Kinugasa Pass (Kinugasa toge tozoku), and an unidentified actor is in the role of Teshita Gansuke; in the left sheet, the actor Kataoka Toragoro I is in the role of Senri Toranoo, standing amidst a gang of thieves. All roles are from the play Shinpan Koshi no Shiranami (New Edition of the Thieves Crossing Over), staged at the Ichimura theater in the 9th month of 1851.
Omatsu, portrayed by Shuka I and depicted in the center sheet holding her baby, is the cross-dressing wife of the samurai Shirasaburo. She teaches fencing as a cover for her activities as Jiriaya, the leader of a gang of bandits. Later in the play, the disguised Omatsu is captured and killed by her husband, who does not know he is killing his wife but instead thinks he is bringing a rogue highwayman to justice. Her ghost, often referred to as kishin or 'demon' Omatsu, attempts to get revenge by murdering her husband while he carries her across a river. That scene has been reimagined many times; the version of kishin Omatsu from Shinpan Koshi no Shiranami is just one retelling of a varied and popular legend.
Kunisada depicted Omatsu threateningly holding a knife for his 1852 [Yakusha mitate] Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi (Actors at the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido) series. Yoshitoshi similarly depicted Shirasaburo bearing kishin Omatsu upon his back in his 1886 diptych from the Shinsen azuma nishiki-e (New Selection of Eastern Brocade Pictures) series.
Samuel L. Leiter, A Kabuki Reader: History and Performance, 2002, p. 228 (re: play)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.44030a-c
price: $ 950
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