Natsu matsuri Naniwa kagami (Mirror of the Osaka summer festival: 夏祭浪花鑑) was originally a nine-act sewamono (domestic or everyday drama: 世話物) staged for ningyô jôruri (puppet theater: 人形淨瑠璃) in 1745. Danshichi Kurobei, a fishmonger and otokodate ("upright man" or chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作) was imprisoned for wounding a retainer of Ôshima Sagaemon (an enemy of Danshichi's ally, Tamashima Hyôdayû). Danshichi is paroled on the condition that he foreswear violence, so any breach of this agreement, however minor, would land him back in prison. Immediately after his release, he stops at the home of his friend Tsuribune no Sabu to wash and change clothes before seeing his wife. While there, Danshichi is attacked by the samurai Issun Tokubei who is allied with an enemy of the Tamashima clan. Sabu intercedes to prevent Danshichi's risking a return to prison, seizing a folding screen and holding it up between the two adversaries. Before the fight is resolved, Danshichi's wife, Okaji, arrives and is upset to discover that her husband, even before reaching home to rejoin his family, has fallen prey to violence yet again. Not long after, in a reversal of alliance, Tokubei befriends Danshichi and they pledge to protect the Tamashima clan.
Hirosada's diptych depicts the deadly confrontation between Danshichi and his father-in-law, Giheiji, in one of kabuki's most famous episodes — Nagamachi no ura no ba (Back-street scene in Nagamachi). As their argument escalates over Danshichi's failure to honor a payment to ransom the courtesan Kotoura, sounds of revelry can be heard from an approaching Kozû Shrine Festival parade along the theater street called Dôtonbori (道頓堀). During performances of this play, the boisterous music provides an incongruous carnivalesque accompaniment to the action in the gloomy backstreet. The scare off the old man, Danshichi draws his sword, but accidentally cuts Giheiji, who screams, "Murderer!" Overcome with rage, Danshichi, his unknotted hair falling to his shoulders, strips down to a red loincloth, revealing his tattooed body. As Danshichi moves in on his prey, he performs various koroshi no mie (murderer's poses: 殺し見得) in counterpoint to Giheiji's displays of panic and supplication. Finally, after Danshichi asks for forgiveness, he ends the old man's life with a thrust of the sword. Danshichi then washes splattered blood and Giheiji's muddy handprints from his body, using water from a nearby well. He escapes by mingling with the large crowd of festival celebrants.
Famous koroshi-ba (murder scenes: 殺し場) such as this one represent what Kawatake Toshio (see ref. below) calls zankoku no bi ("cruel beauty": 惨酷の美), referring to an aesthetic principle first formulated in Japan by the yôga (Western-style painting: 洋画) and Nihonga (Japanese-style painting: 日本画) artist Kishida Ryûsei (1891-1929), published posthumously in Engeki biron (Study of Theatre Aesthetics). Tokyo: Tôkô Shoin, 1930. According to this hypothesis, which Kawatake calls "negative beauty," scenes of cruelty, violence, and pain are made beautiful through artistic transformation. In Japanese popular theatre, zankoku no bi refers specifically to visual, kinetic, and musical embellishments in scenes of evil that infuse the setting with an eerie beauty. This is surely the case in the Nagamachi no ura no ba when Danshichi strikes as many as thirteen different mie.
The tattoo covering nearly every square millimeter of Danshichi's upper body, with a whirlwind extending to the actor's shoulders and arms, depicts at its center an earth spider, referring to the legend of Minamoto Yorimitsu (源頼光 948-1021; "Raikô" is the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of the characters for Yorimitsu). Over the centuries, Raikô's real-life biography was embellished with accounts of miraculous feats against supernatural forces. His deeds were celebrated in genres as varied as the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike Clan: 平家物語), medieval Nô theater, classical tales, and Edo-period kabuki. The Tsuchigumo (Giant Earth Spider: 土蜘蛛) attempts to ensnare Raikô in its web, but the warrior, despite suffering from a severe illness, manages to cut his way free. Eventually, four of Raikô's retainers (sometimes called the Shitennô or Four Guardian Kings: 四天王) track down and slay the spider. Kabuki fans in Hirosada's time would have quickly made the connection between the Earth Spider legend and Rikan's tattoo.
This is an early impression with a tri-color title cartouche and metallics on Danshichi's sword. Other impressions are in the Ikeda Bunko Library and Waseda University collections (see IKBYS and WAS referencs below). The preservation of colors on our example is excellent, and it bears a seal reading suri Kame ("printed by Kame"), who might have been not only the printer but also the publisher of this edition.
For more about the artist, see Hirosada Biography.
- IKBYS-IV, no. 297
- WAS-6, no. 209
- HOP, no. 37a
- NKE, p. 462
- Kawatake Toshio: Kabuki - Baroque Fusion of the Arts." Tokyo: International House of Japan, 2003, Chapter 6, The Creation of "Negative Beauty," pp. 172-183.
- Takeuchi, Melinda: "Kuniyoshi's 'Minamoto Raikô and the Earth Spider: Demons and Protest in Late Tokugawa Japan', in: Ars Orientalis, 1987, Vol. 17 (1987), pp. 5-38.