Shikan, Gonjuro and Sawamura Hakunosuke as onnagata, with giant cat, September 1880
Ink on Paper
13 15/16 in. x 27 7/8 in. (35.4 cm x 70.8 cm)
Fine colors. Fine impressions with gauffrage and lacquer.
Signed: “Yoshu Chikanobu hitsu”
Colored ink woodblock print; oban triptych.
Lord Nabeshima Naoshige (1538-1618), the military governor (daimyo) of Hizen Province, is being threatened by the Cat Monster of Saga, which is seeking revenge for the deaths of Ryuzoji Matahichiro and his mother. Killer cats have long been a favorite topic for ghost stories in Japan, and this kabuki scene appears to be from the same play, "The Story of the Cat Monster of Fair Saga" (Hana Saga neko mata zoshi) written in 1853 by Segawa Joko III (1806-1881).
Joko was noted for fabricating "family stories" (oiemono) about famous people, and Nabeshima Naoshige was renowned as a retainer of the Ryuzoji clan who seized control of the feudal domain on the death of his master in the late 16th century. Naoshige went on to distinguish himself in battles during the Korean invasions of the 1590's, and in kidnapping Korean potters who were forced to work in Japan for the Nabeshima clan (Nabeshima-yaki is still a famous product of Hizen.) In 1600 Naoshige and his son first fought at the Battle of Sekigahara for the Tokugawa clan, but then changed sides to join the Toyotomi, who lost. However, Naoshige was able to maintain control of Hizen Province and established a tentative relationship with the new Tokugawa shogun. Both Naoshige and his son are controversial politicians but well-respected warriors, and were featured in the famous 18th century military strategy book Hagakure. Thus as historical figures, the Nabeshima clan would have been known to kabuki audiences, and good subjects for Joko's imagination.
Based loosely on the events surrounding the Nabeshima family takeover of the Hizen feudal domain from the Ryuzoji clan, the kabuki play has Lord Naoshige challenge Matahichiro to a game of go at Saga Castle. When Naoshige loses, he becomes enraged and kills the Ryuzoji member. Matahichiro's mother hears of this, yet another insult to her family's honor, and commits suicide. Her favorite cat Tama licks up the blood and assumes supernatural powers, determined to seek vengeance against Naoshige.
Chikanobu apparently was commissioned by two publishers to produce print designs, making an interesting comparison. Two actors are shown in both prints, though positioned differently.
In the Matsushita print (please see 2005.1.24) Nakamura Tokizo I (1849-1919) plays Nabeshima Naoshige (here called Taishu ("Great Lord")), and stands above the monstrous Kaibyo, who is played by Bando Hikojuro I (n.d.) dressed in a cat costume complete with paws. With the cat's flying fur and flailing claws, the scene conveys the theatrical excitement of the beast's attack. This is watched by Suketakaya Takasuke IV (1838-1886) as Komori Morinosuke (at left) and the onnagata Sawamura Hyakunosuke I (1857-1899).
In this print, the Yamamura print, the kaibyo appears as an enormous cat head (an image painted on a stage flat) peering into the room. Although eerie, it appears less threatening, and the overall print composition is somewhat static. The onnagata Sawamura Hyakunosuke I is at center, looking almost coyly toward Nakamura Tokizo, here called Dairyo ("Great Lord"). She appears to be pushing back the folding screen (byobu) in order to loose the monster. Behind her is Ichikawa Gonjuro (1848-1904), who seems merely surprised by the cat head looming to his side. The scene is not as visually dramatic. The less colorful costumes and darker background of the Yamamura print also makes the Matsushita publication appears more lively and even chaotic, appropriate to the theatricalities of this kabuki play.
The onnagata Hyakunosuke was adopted by the famous Sawamura Tanosuke III (1845-1878), who later contracted gangrene after an injury and had both feet amputated on the advice of an American doctor in Yokohama. However, Tanosuke III continued to appear on stage for several years, supported by attendants, but retired in 1872, dying several years later. In January 1881 Hyakunosuke inherited his adoptive father's name, so this poster is for the last season with his disciple name.
For more information, please refer to the Chikanobu exhibition catalogue.
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