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Archive: Sadanobu III (三代目 貞信 earlier Konobu III, 三代目 小信)

Bunraku puppet as asobime (courtesan) Ôkaru in the puppet play Kanadehon chûshingura
Uchida (?)
(H x W)
Large ôban deluxe
(42.2 x 28.5 cm)
Very good impression
Excellent color; very good condition (unbacked; small stain near Okaru's hair; slight browning in the large top margin along the paper's edge; otherwise very good, with a light pink background; accompanied by an undated bilingual pamphlet providing a brief synopsis of the plot, written by Ohnishi Shigetada)
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Inquiry (Ref #SNU01)


Sadanobu III (1881-1963; 三代目長谷川貞信) began as Konobu III (三代目小信). He worked principally in the shin hanga ("new prints" or neo-ukiyo-e: 新版画) manner, producing yakusha-e (pictures of actors: 役者絵), bunraku-ga (pictures of the puppet theater: 文楽画), and bijinga (pictures of beautiful women: 美人画) for the Kyoto publisher Uchida.

In the puppet play Kanadehon chûshingura (Writing manual for the treasury of the loyal retainers: 假名手本忠臣蔵), a perennial favorite for the puppets (bunraku 文楽 or ningyô jôruri 人形淨瑠璃) and kabuki (歌舞伎), premiered for bunraku in 11/1748 at the Takemoto-za, Osaka, and for kabuki in the same month at the Naka no Shibai, Osaka. Ôkaru was a maid servant to Hangan Enya before his seppuku (ritual suicide: 切腹). She is also in love with Kanpei, Hangan's former retainer. She later becomes a courtesan (asobi-me means "women who plays" or prostitute) at the Ichiriki Teahouse, and in a later scene manages to kill Kudayû, a spy for Hangan's enemy, Moronao.


In the present design, Ôkaru (遊女おかる) is shown at the Ichiriki tea-house trying to read a secret letter with the help of a mirror. This compromises Yuranosuke Ôboshi’s secret plot to avenge Hangan's death, which obligates him to kill Ôkaru. However, her brother Heimon intervenes and kills Ôkaru himself, keeping the family honor intact.

This print is from a large set of at least 24 designs for bunraku by Sadanobu III and Hanabusa Hideki (1914-?). Characters from various ningyô-jôruri are featured. There are later modern editions published by Uchida and the designs still sold today at the puppet theater, with brighter and slightly different colors. However, our impression is from the original edition of the 1930s. It includes metallic pigment on the mirror and hair ornament, plus a light pink background.

References: BRH, pp. 185-202 (1964 edition)