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Archive: Hokushû (北洲)

Nakamura Utaemon III as Kumagai Jirô Naozane in Ichinotani futaba gunki, Kado Theater, Osaka
Shunkôsai Hokushû ga
Wataya Kihei (flower seal at lower right) and Ariwaradô Chûbei (seal on the fan handle)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.4 x 25.9 cm
Very good, deluxe edition with metallics and karazuri (blind embossing) on thick paper
Good color and condition (unbacked; some fading, flattened album crease along right margin, several tiny wormholes near top and bottom edges, very light soil on neck, tiny marks of stray pigment, small thinned area in upper left corner verso and slightly weakened lower left corner)
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Ichinotani futaba gunki (Battle chronicle of two young leaves at Ichinotani: 一谷嫩軍記) was originally written for Bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽) and staged at the Toyotake no Shibai, Osaka in 12/1751. This jidaimono ("period piece" or history play: 時代物) is a fanciful adaptation based on the tales of the Genpei wars (1156-1185), the pivotal struggle between the Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) clans. Kumagai no Jirô Naozane (熊谷次郎直実 1141-1208), one of kabuki's most celebrated roles, was a general serving under the legendary Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経 1159-89) who had to face in battle a youth of only 15 named Taira no Atsumori (平敦盛 1169–1184), son of a general. As it happened, Kumagai owed a debt of gratitude to Atsumori's mother, for she had saved Kumagai and his wife from execution 17 years earlier. Having no other way to honor his debt, Kumagai substitutes and sacrifices his son for Atsumori. This shocking turn of events only delays the inevitable, however, and finally Kumagai must slay Atsumori. Distraught at the loss of his son and his failure to save Atsumori, Kumagai renounces his allegiance to the Minamoto and takes the vows of a Buddhist priest.


The actor is portrayed on an uchiwa (rigid fan: 團扇 or 団扇) whose support ribs are mimicked with the technique called karazuri (lit., "empty printing," embossing without pigments: 空摺).

This design was issued for what was supposed to be Utaemon's farewell performance in 1825 (he did not, however, retire). The block-cutter was the celebrated Kasuke and the dseign is one of the notable portraits from the later period of Hokushû's career.

References: IKBYS-I, no. 164; WAS-IV, no. 244