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Plays and Theatre

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Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Japanese, (1797–1861)
The actors Bando Mitsugoro (R) and Segawa Kikunojo (L), c. 1850
Ink on Paper
14 5/16 in. x 10 1/8 in. (36.35 cm x 25.72 cm)

Object Type: Print
Technique: Wood-block Printing
Period: Edo (Japan, 1615-1868)
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. J. Stanley Johnson
Accession Number: 2000.1.34

Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga.

Colored ink on paper; woodblock print; oban tat-e. In blue, green and black inks.

Object Description
19th century Japanese color woodblock print showing a man and a kneeling woman, from a Kabuki theatre scene; printed in blue, green and black. Although the play is unidentified, the interactions between the two figures convey interesting gender associations; for instance, the kneeling female shows the cultural ideal of a woman subservient to a powerful man. In kabuki actor prints, the men are often imbued with a dynamic, authoritative energy, while the onnagata are calmer and placid, existing within a space but rarely physically dominating it.

The figures are dressed in robes decorated with the Buddhist chant “Namu Amida Butsu” which is recited in hopes of rebirth in the Western Paradise. Their expressions suggest the desperation of thwarted lovers who are about to commit suicide, praying to be permanently united in the afterlife. Kabuki plays about shinju (double suicide) were very popular, but also inspired a rash of real suicides so that in 1723 the government banned on stage depictions of shinju.

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