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Archive: Shigeharu (重春)

Onoe Tamizô II as Rokusaburô in Umemoyo ukina no irozome at the Wakadayû Theater, Osaka
Ryûsai Shigeharu ga
No artist seal; Block cutter: hori Sada; Printer: suri Nao
Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei: 天満屋喜兵衞)
(H x W)
Oban nishiki-e
36.7 x 24.2 cm
Very good
Good color (slightly faded); good condition (slight soil, one crease and a few imperfections in the paper, one small filled wormhole, slightly trimmed)
Price (USD/¥):
SOLD  (Ref #SGH04)

The play was an adaptation of one of the most notorious double suicide stories (shinjû-mono), this one involving the carpenter Rokusaburô and the courtesan Osono, inspired by an actual event in 1749. (The Osaka citizenry was shocked by yet another death on the same day, when a prostitute was executed for murdering Osono's brother.)

The popular theatrical retelling also involves the theft of a precious scroll painting of a carp (koi). When Rokusaburô tracks down the thieves and wrestles the scroll away from them, the carp comes to life and escapes. Shigeharu's print shows him trying to capture the carp, a scene called koi no tsukamimono ("catching hold of the carp"). The play was performed in the summer, and real water was used on the stage (called mizuiri or "in the water").


This dynamic design portrays Rokusaburô struggling with a giant carp along a rocky shoreline as the waves — drawn in a manner reminiscent of the Edo master Katsushika Hokusai — crash about them. The actor Onoe Tamizô II (1799-1886), whose career of nearly 70 years bridged the Edo and Meiji periods, was especially popular in the middle theaters (chû-shibai) such as the Wakadayû, where the present play was performed. Still in his early thirties, Tamizô displays a lithe and athletic prowess that he would soon lose to obesity (later prints do not disguise his pudgy face and form).

The publisher Tenki apparently found this dramatic design worthy enough to include a cartouche with the names of the block cutter and printer (see seal detail at right: hori Sada on the right; suri Nao on the left). Such a gesture was usually reserved for the better-executed kamigata-e.

References: IBKYS-II, no. 163; KNP-6, p. 255.