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Toshikuni (年國)

Nakamura Utaemon III as Katsuma Gengobei and Sawamura Kunitarô II as keisei (courtesan) Kikuno in Godairiki koi no fûjime, Naka no Shibai, Osaka
Toyokawa Toshikuni ga
No artist's seal
Kichi and Honsei (Honya Seishichi: 本屋清七)
(H x W)
Ôban diptych nishiki-e
36.8 x 51.1 cm
Very good
Very good color, unbacked; two flattened vertical creases, repaired binding and wormholes along several edges; some light rubbing, discoloration at edges
Price (USD/¥):
$630 / Contact us to pay in yen (¥)

Order/Inquiry: TOK01 


Godairiki koi no fûjime (Five great powers that secure love: 五大力恋緘), considered by many to be the masterpiece of the playwright Namiki Gihei (1747-1808), premiered in 5/1794 at the Nishi no Shibai, Kyoto. The drama is an adaptation of the real-life Sonezaki gonin giri (Five murders at Sonezaki) when Sada Hachiemon, a Satsuma retainer, murdered the hot springs prostitute Kikuno and four other people. In the Osaka theatrical version, Katsuma Gengobei follows his young lord Mantarô from Kyûshû to Osaka, seeking an heirloom sword called Ryûko (Dragon and Tiger). Gengobei's fellow retainer, Sasano Sangobei, has been prodding their master into licentious carousing at the Fujita-ya in the Dôtonbori district, where Sangobei also attempts to seduce the Sonezaki pleasure woman Kikuno of the Sakura-ya. She rebuffs him and also enlists Gengobei to pretend to be her lover. Sangobei retaliates by insulting Gengobei and exposing his supposed liaison with Kikuno, and by persuading Mantarô to pursue Kikuno. Mantarô then dismisses Gengobei from service.

While still searching for the sword and suspecting Sangobei in its disappearance, Gengobei asks Kikuno to help investigate Sangobei. Having grown fond of Gengobei, she writes the word godairiki (five + large + power: 五大力) on her samisen (three-stringed musical instrument: 三味線). This was a reference to a boddhisatva that was written by courtesans on the sealed edge of their love letters; if there were signs of disruption to the inscription due to opening the letter, a lover would know whether he had been the first to do so. After more treachery by Sangobei, Kikuno is forced to pretend she wants a "divorce" from Gengobei and to revile him when he asks for proof of her change of heart. She changes the characters for godairiki with just a few strokes to make the inscription on her samisen read sango taitetsu ("Sango is precious"). Believing she has betrayed him, Gengobei beheads Kikuno. However, when he learns of her true feelings, he kills Sangobei at the Matsuzaka-ya in Sonezaki, along with three others. There he also recovers the heirloom sword, and then returns it to Mantarô. Although Mantarô accepts him back into his service, Gengobei must atone for the killings and tries to take his own life. In a macabre twist, he fails when Kikuno's head adheres to his hand, preventing him from slashing open his abdomen (seppuku: 切腹).


This appears to be the scene in which Gengobei slays Kikuno and takes her head and letter back to his home. As he leans against a floor screen or byôbu (lit., "barrier against the wind": 屏風) painted with a pine tree, Gengobei looks upon Kikuno, who is unaware of his presence.

This rare design is unrecorded in the standard literature on Kamigata prints.

References: NKE, p. 131