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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

Arashi Junosuke (嵐寿之助) as Torii Matasuke (鳥井又助) in an unidentified play and theater
Shunkôsai Hokuei ga (春江齋北英画)
No artist seal
Daiki (Taigi?) 大儀
c. 1830-1833
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.4 x 25.4 cm
Excellent color, unbacked; slight trimming at top, repaired binding holes, paper flaw crease UL, sheet thin overall
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: HKE95


The storyline for the play and theater commemorated in Hokuei's design continues to elude us. The staging might have been a performance in a chû-shibai ("middle theater," 中芝居). This would be consistent with the very rare "publisher's" mark (Daiki, 大儀), which could have belonged to a secondary publisher or a bookseller / print-vendor shop.

The role of Torii Matasuke appears in more than one of the so-called Kagamiyama mono (Kaga Mountain plays: 鏡山物) dramatizing eighteenth-century rivalries within the Maeda clan in Kaga. Many were adaptations of a ningyô jôruri (puppet play: 人形淨瑠璃) called Kagamiyama kokyô no nishiki-e (A brocade picture of the birthplace at Mirror Mountain , 鏡山舊錦絵) from 1782 in Edo. A slightly earlier Kyoto production was Kagamiyama kuruwa no kikigaku (A picture of the pleasure quarter at Mirror Mountain: 鏡山廓の写本) premiering in 1780. One of the better known Edo adaptations, with the role of Torii Matasuke was Keisei Soga kuruwa Kagamiyama (Mirror Mountain and courtesan's Soga in the pleasure quarters, けいせい曽我廓鏡山), a play about two courtesans in the Yoshiwara brothel district in Edo (HKS14). It includes the role of Torii Matasuke. Another possibility for the role is Kagamiyama sugata no utsushi-e (A true picture likeness at Mirror Mountain: 鏡山姿写絵), HSD63, and Keisei ume no kaiga, but, again, we cannot confirm the link between the present design and these plays.

In the aforementioned Keisei Soga kuruwa Kagamiyama, one scene from the original play, is no longer performed. It included an armed confrontation between Torii Matasuke and a lord named Taga. The two meet at the river's edge, Taga riding a black steed in the fast-flowing current, Matasuke poised for action. Later in the play Matasuke sacrifices himself and then, at the climax, returns as a vengeful spirit to defeat his enemies (HKS14).

A drama not so closely related to Kagamiyama mono is Keisei hyakumangoku (A million lands, a courtesan play, 傾城百万國), which appears to be an adaptation of Ehon gappô ga tsuji (An illustrated picture-book of the crossroads of Gappô, 絵本合法衢), a masterpiece by Tsuruya Nanboku IV premiering in 1810. The story was an outstanding revenge play (adauchi mono) about the Taga clan in which good ultimately triumphs over evil, but only after complex events unfold involving mistaken identities and numerous murders. In that play, Torii Matasuke, at one point, is disguised as Kanoko Kanbei 鹿子勘兵衛 (SUS01).


Hokuei's design might depict the confrontation scene between Torii Matasuke and Lord Taga.

This appears to be a very rare design; we know of only one other impression in a private collection.