Torii Kiyonobu I
The “Courtesan” Masatsune
after 1711

hosoban, 33.0 x 15.4 cm; sumizuri-e, tan-e, apparently coloured later

This complex mitate-e, a satirical depiction of three actors and their relationship to each other, shows the theatre director (Ichimura) Takenojō as a little boy on a hobby-horse at the centre. The two others, (Katsuyama) Matagorō and (Ikushima) Shinzō, are holding on to the “bamboo horse” by thick ropes, thus they are able to lead Takenojō around on a leash.

Provenance: Otto Jaekel Geyger, inv.no.16393 (KG p.32 / KGE p.38)

Three actors are depicted in a diagonal arrangement, one above the other. Their names and roles are supplied beside them. A large pine tree occupies the upper right-hand part of the leaf. Below left, the characters are buried among slender blades of grass. At the centre stands (Ichimura) Takenojō, (Uzaemon VIII), theatre director of the Ichimura-za from 1703 on, and actor. Taking the form of a youth, he rides on a hobby-horse (take-uma, „bamboo horse“). According to the accompanying inscription he is meant to portray the war hero Asahina from the legends about the Soga Brothers. Katsuyama Matagorō as a youthful hero, described as Tanenao, with unshaven head, and Ikushima Shingorō (Shinzō) as gejo (maid) hold the hobby-horse by its thick reins. This leaf, of which only this one, exceptionally well-preserved print exists, satirically depicts three actors and their interrelationships.
Even without the written identification of persons and roles, there would be no doubt that the leaf can be regarded as a travesty of the play Jinriki Teika Azuma Asobi („The journay of the Devine Powers, Teika, to the east“), which was performed in the year 1710 (Hōei 7th year), in the 11th month at the Nakamura-za. The hero of this play is the court poet Teika Fujiwara-no-Sadaie (1162-1241), the compiler of the anthology Hyakunin Isshu („One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets“). An unsigned woodcut in the Watanabe Collection, Tokyo, shows a similar scene to that in our leaf from this play: the poet (played by Ikushima Shingorō) on a horse, which is being led by means of thick ropes by Ichikawa Danjūrō as Ōe-samon and Arashi Kiyosaburō as the faithful female leader of the horse, Naishinnō, a „Princess of noble birth“. Another woodcut in Minnesota shows the same scene. In the upper part of both leaves are scenic references to the places visited on the journey.

The motif of a woman on a horse led on strong reins by two men is also to be found in another woodcut (previously Saitō Collection and Hiraki Collection, Riccar Museum, Tokyo). Arashi Kiyosaburō plays the famous Aoi-no-Ue, the first wife of the Prince Genji, Nakamura Denkurō plays Hyōgo-kerai Ansaemon („the vassal from Hyōgo“) and Katsuyuma Matagorō the Tokiwa Hyōgo-no-jō („the ever faithful helper from Hyōgo“). His pose is repeated in reverse on our leaf.

A boy would hardly have been in a position to lead the theatre. Nonetheless, his choice of the name Takenojō, which he made as a ten-year-old in 1708, witnesses his self-confidence. Here he is shown, however, as a little boy on his bamboo horse in a debut dance for child actors (kogata). The depiction of Takenojō without his family name, as the „jō of the bamboo“ and as a „beginner“ represented as a child, but bearing the name „Asahina“, the great hero of theatre war plays, is certainly to be seen as a form of personal ridicule. The accompanying allusions to the courtly cavalier Teika and to the main person in the jealous drama Aoi-no-Ue underline the irony. Katsuyama Matagorō as the hero Tanenao was in fact well past his youth, while Ikushima Shingorō is not an onnagata actor, but rather plays as Teika himself – as for example in the above-mentioned woodcut in the Watanabe Collection. In our leaf he does not appear in a role costume but in the clothing of an onnagata actor off-stage, with female hairstyle and yarōbōshi (scarf fort he forehead), as well as a sword.

Interestingly, both actors no longer performed in the Ichimura-za theatre in the years around 1708-1710. To all appearances, the artist of this woodcut intended by the way of the dramaturgical device of kakikae to make fun in this mitate of the little-regarded boy theatre director Takenojō, who was not taken seriously, and of his relationship to the two actors Matagorō and Shingorō, who also held him „on a lead“.

Stylistically one can attribute the work to Torii Kiyonobu I or his immediate circle around the period 1708-1710.