Ichikawa Danjuro VIII Memorial Portrait Diptych
unsigned, no publisher mark, ca. 1854
oban tate-e diptych 14 1/4 by 19 1/4 in., 36.1 by 49 cm
This print depicts a oni (demon) grasping the arm of the beloved kabuki actor, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII (1823-1854), to drag him off to the undworld, while a group of fans frantically latch on to their beloved and try to thwart his departure. Even a small dog and a cat at the far left are joining in on the futile effort.
The death of actor Danjuro VIII was a devastating event in mid-19th century popular culture. The beloved actor, belonging to the prestigious Danjuro line of actors for whom many of the most prominent kabuki roles were reserved, committed suicide at a way-side inn while en route to Osaka to perform with his father, Ichikawa Danjuro VII (Ichikawa Ebizo V, 1791-1859). The 31 year old was perhaps kabuki's most-promising rising star with a huge female following (he was unmarried as well). So obsessive were his fans that the barrel of water in which he would briefly hide while in the classic role of the misunderstood ne'er-do-well Sukeroku was later sold at auction for a huge sum. And pastry shops would likewise capitalize on Danjuro VIII's popularity by offering cracked bean paste buns that would replicate the grotesque burns of Danjuro VIII's 'scar-faced' Yosaburo character.
(inv. no. 10-5196)
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