Mori Yoshitoshi (森義利 1898-1992) was born in Tokyo and graduated from the Kawabata School of Fine Arts. He studied stencil dyeing with Yanagi Sôetsu (柳宗悦 1889-1961), philosopher who established the Mingei (folk crafts: 民芸) movement in the late 1920s and 1930s, and with the textile designer, leading member of the mingei movement, and ningen kokuhô (Living National Treasure: 人間国宝 in 1956) Serizawa Keisuke (芹沢銈介 1895-1984). Mori produced tapestries in the 1940s that he entered into exhibitions, and began making monotype stencil prints from wooden blocks and glass sheets in 1951. He first exhibited prints on paper in 1954, encouraged by Yanagi.
A revealing incident occurred in 1957 that was both a disappointment and a triumph for Mori. Eight hundred prints by 250 artists from around the world were entered into the First International Biennial of Prints in Tokyo. The judges were from France, Spain, West Germany, Israel, and Japan. Dissension ensued, with the Japanese judges favoring prints in the Western manner, while the foreign judges preferred works in the Japanese tradition. On the strength of the vote by the Japanese contingent, first prize went to the mezzotint master Hamaguchi Yôzô (浜口陽三 1909-2000), but Mori was the favorite of the foreign judges. Despite the outcome, Mori was encouraged to pursue printmaking.
Mori straddled the worlds of artist and artisan-craftsman until 1962 when his kappazuri-e (lit., "oil-skin prints," or stencil prints: 合羽摺絵) met with criticism from Serizawa, who in a well-known debate charged Mori with abandoning the crafts movement. Mori thereafter devoted himself to the art of kappazuri-e and was no longer closely associated with the mingei movement. For more than 30 years his subjects included kabuki, craftsmen, festivals, and figures from traditional stories, printed on colored or plain grounds. Stylistically, his figures are typically positioned in contorted, dynamic masses of shapes and colors. They rarely fail to signal a unique artistic vision.
Although untitled, the figure in Mori's print has been identified as the hero Arajishi Otokonosuke (荒獅子男之助), antagonist of the villain Nikki Danjô (仁木だん正) in plays such as Meiboku sendai hagi (Lespedeza, the famous tree of Sendai: 伽羅先代萩) and its adaptation Hagi wa Sendai Matsumoto (Matsumoto and the famous autumn flowers of Sendai: 秋花先代名松本). The mon (crest: 紋) on the black robe is the mimasu (three rice measures: 三舛), the emblem of the Ichikawa lineage of actors. Here we can see that he is holding a heavy iron fan in his right hand, which he will use to strike a giant rat, actually a transfigured Nikki Danjô, to protect a precious scroll critical to the survival of the Date clan. For an example of this tale in the ukiyo-e style, see HKS17 and HKS40.
Although the palette is done primarily in black and muted yellow and brown, there is a limited but effective use of bright red along the sword scabbard and the inside of Otokonosuke's mouth. Otokonosuke's impressive bulk and fierce mien make this kappazuri-e one of Mori's notable designs.