Okumara Toshinobu
The Three Actors Sanjō Kantarō, Nakamura Kichibēi and Ichimura Takenojō in a Soga Drama

Signed: Yamato-ekō Okumura Toshinobu hitsu. Publisher: Oroshi Shiba shinmei-mae Izutsuya hanmoto and (logo) “e” hoso-e, 32.9 x 15.7 cm; urushi-e

Three actors are wearing garments patterned with large figures; the cloak (haori) and fashionable hairstyle (tategami) of the young samurai are emphasized by black lacquer (urushi). Nakamura Kichibei is sitting in the foreground in the role of Yaheibei. Behind him is the onnagata Sanjō Kantarō as Tatsuhime, dressed here as a doctor, on the left is Ichimura Takenojō as the infamous Kudō Suketsune from the Soga-monogatari .

Provenance: Otto Jaekel (Portheim Stiftung, 1975) Geyger, inv.no.16368 (KG p.70 / KGE p.78)

Okumura Toshinobu (active 1717- ca. 1750): during the period of time in which Masanobu created the most important of his urushi-e, the leaves by Toshinobu also appeared. Similarities are undeniable, but it cannot be said that they are copies, so clearly are these lacquered pictures distinguished by the bold elegance of the lines and the balanced style of composition of the images, which often include several persons. In such works, Toshinobu is of the same stature as Masanobu in his pictorial intensity; sometimes he surpasses him.

The proximity to Masanobu’s work may also be explained if the supposition is true that Toshinobu was his adopted son.
The three actors are arranged diagonally one above the other to form a closed shape. Sanjô, Kantarô’s face is on an axis with that of Nakamura, Kichibei. There is large-scale ornamentation decorating their robes. The actors are identified by inscription giving their names and their mon (crests).

They act together in a play entitled: Hinazuru katoku Soga (“Soga play about young crane inheritor”) which was performed in the 9th month of 1722 at the Ichimura-za theatre. According to the Kabuki nempyô, the onnagata performer Kantarô appeared as Tatsuhime, the daughter of Itô Nyûdô, wearing a cap called a zukin and a haori “in the style of a doctor.” Takennojô with unshaven head as Kudô, Suketsune leaves the stage in the second act of the play with a roppô. Kichibei appears in the comic role of Yaheibei. The theatre play belongs to the area of the Soga legends.

Takenojô plays the role of Kudô, Suketsune, who is usually known as the murderer of the Soga Brothers’ father and presented as a villain. However, here he is the victim of the deceitful grandfather of the heroes Soga. This man named Itô, Sukechika (died 1081) was the feudal lord of Kawazu in Izu. His uncle, Itô, Suketsugu, allotted him the task of administrating the executive area of Itô in Izu on behalf of his son Suketsune, who was not yet of age. No sooner was Suketsugu dead than Sukechika sent the young Kudô, Suketsune into secure custody in the capital, and appropriated his property. At a hunting event of the Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, Suketsune took his revenge on his uncle and on Sukeyasu, who was the Soga Brothers’ father.

Sukechika’s daughter was married to Yoritomo’s vassal named Miura, Yoshizumi (1127-1200); but in spite of her pleas on behalf of her father, Sukechika was forced to commit suicide.

This theme is taken up by the action of the play, but it seems to have been a humorous version. This is supported by the depiction of Kudô, Suketsune as a young samurai by Takenojô, who exits in a style imitating that of an aragoto actor. Tatsuhime in her doctor’s costume reminds us that the popularity of this theme was not limited to comedies of European countries of the 17th c. and 18th c.
The actor Kichibei (1684-1765), a member of the Nakamura family, appeared from 1716-1739 in dôke-gata (fool) roles. Sanjô, Kantarô II (1702-1763) appeared from 1712 in wakashû (youth) roles at the Yamamura-za. From 1716, he performed as an onnagata (woman) and wakashû actor. In 1718 came his breakthrough in the role of O-Shichi, the daughter of a greengrocer (yaoya), in the play Shichi-shû fuku-ju sô-ga (“Seven kinds of happiness and long life through personal selfishness”). This drama, which was based on a novel by Ihara, Saikaku (1642-1693) from his work Kôshoku gonin onna (Five Sensuous Women), depicts a real event. When her house burnt down, O-Shichi found refuge with her parents in a temple. There she fell desperately in love with the temple page Kichibei. When her new house was ready and O-Shichi had to return, she set it on fire in order to go back to the temple and return to her love. Kantarô was one of the most important women impersonators of his time, alongside Segawa, Kikunojô. In 1775 interest in him began to wane, and by 1746 he seems to have lost his popularity. In the year 1763 he died at the age of 61. In Ukiyo-e he is depicted on many leaves. He took his name from Sanjô, Kantarô I, who was active between 1661 and 1680. The name Sanjô is possibly based on the city quarter of the same name in Kyôto.