The first image is a really unusual ōkubi-e (big-headed print) and I was very lucky to be able to purchase it because this sub-genre is usually very desirable. The condition isn’t perfect but it is good and I have never seen this design before.
The next 3 prints are all from a play called “Okige no kumo harau Asagochi” (“The Morning East Wind Clearing the Clouds of the Southwest“), staged at the Shintomi-za theatre from 23rd February 1878 (running until June). This play was about the Satsuma Rebellion, which had taken place the previous year, and seems to have been phenomenally popular because I have found at least 5 different designs by Kunichika – there might be more if we include other artists. They seem to have been produced in fairly high numbers too because they come up for sale often.
I am really intrigued by this design featuring both a modern railway bridge in the background, plus an intriguing animal-shaped drum carried by the central character?
This print is another that shows the modernisation of the Meiji period through the lens of kabuki, with the central character wearing a new police officer’s uniform. I also adore the burnished effect on the right-hand character’s kimono. This effect was achieved by carving a “negative” block (the correct way round) and then using it dry to burnish the dried black ink in the section of the picture.
This next print is from a classic play known commonly as “Sukeroku“, after the main hero of the story – always depicted wearing a purple band around his head, tied on the right side as a sign of sickness. On the face of it this isn’t a very good quality print but I was intrigued by the odd way that they have handled the right-most character’s grey hair and the 3/4 framing of the characters. The depiction of the musicians is also a little unusual because although they are a normal part of a kabuki performance they are not always featured in the composition.
The last highlight is yet another print of one of my favourite plays called “Yowa Nasake Ukina no Yokogushi“ but commonly called “Kirare Yosa“. The plot centres around a man called Yosaburō who falls in love with Otomi, the mistress of a local gangster, Genzaemon. They are discovered and Genzaemon’s henchmen cut Yosaburō all over and send him into exile. Otomi jumps off a cliff into the sea when told Yosaburō was killed but she is saved by the kindly Tazaemon. Years later Yosaburō is known as Scarface Yosa and he travels with his friend Yasu the Bat, from his facial tattoo. The encounter Otomi and eventually Yasu is paid off and Yosa and Otomi live happily every after.