Okumara Toshinobu
The Actor Sawamura Sōjūrō I

Signed: Yamato gakō Okumura Toshinobu hitsu; Publisher’s seal: Shiba-shinmei Izutsuya hanmoto; hosoban, 33.9 x 16.2 cm; urushi-e with karazuri and metallic pigments

This print depicts the celebrated actor Sawamura Sōjūrō I. On his kimono is the mon of the Sawamura, the syllable “i” in hiragana characters. An inrō (pillbox) decorated with the Soga crest is hanging from his belt. Toshinobu only produced urushi-e prints in hosoban format. The proximity to Masanobu’s work results from the fact that Toshinobu was his student, and perhaps even his adoptive son.

Geyger, inv.no.16414 (KG p.90 / KGE p.88)

The actor steps out on high geta (wooden shoes) towards the right, turning his head back. With his left hand he holds an umbrella, while the right hand is hidden under the sleeve of his kimono. Two swords are fastened in his belt. The kimono is of the greatest elegance. On the shoulders and borders of the sleeves are black areas set off against a checked material. Sawamura’s crest, the character “i” in hiragana script, appears several times on the lower, demarcated border area. An inrô hangs from the geometrically patterned belt, the ornamentation of which shows the Soga crest (actually that of Kudô Suketsune).
The leaf is unusually well preserved.

Sawamura, Sôjûrô I (1689-1756) is the contemporary of Ichikawa, Danjûrô II, of Ôtani, Hirôji I, and of Segawa, Kikunojô I. Sôjûrô came from a samurai family in Kyôto, who rejected him because of his lifestyle. At first he was received by the actor Sawamura, Chôjûrô in Ôsaka who, at Sôjûrô’s insistent pleading, instructed him in the art of acting. But because the actor did not want to give Sôjûrô his name, Sôjûrô left him in anger and joined a wandering company where he performed as a player of supporting roles and as a flautist. IN 1715 he returned to Ôsaka, was reconciled with Chôjûrô and appeared in his theatre using the name Zengorô. His big chance came in 1717 when the lead player of the role of Coxinga in the play Kokusenya kassen (“The Fight of Kokusenya [Coxinga]”), fell ill; he substituted for him and was thus able to demonstrated his talent. At a guest appearance in Ise he met the actor Sadoshima, Chôgorô, who advised him to go to Edo. In 1718 he was already playing at the Morita-za in Edo and from 1720 onwards he called himself Sôjûrô.
He appeared very successfully as Soga, Jûrô, and with Danjûrô II as Soga, Gorô. In 1735 he wrote a drama for the Nakamura-za with the theme of the blood revenge of the 47 rônin of Akô (Chûshingura). In 1747 he visited his home city of Kyôto for a guest performance, after having given various performances in Ôsaka in 1743. However, he immediately hurried back to Edo, where in 1747 he went down in theatre history in the première performance of the season (kaomise), along with Danjûrô II and Segawa, Kikunojô I. This was the performance with the highest star fees of the century (sanzen-ryô-kaomise; i.e., “three thousand ryô-kaomise”). Meanwhile, he was calling himself Chôjûrô.

Sôjûrô’s interpretation of Yuranosuke in Kanadehon Chûshingura in 1749 was even copied by the puppet theatre. In 1753 he called himself Suketakaya, Takasuke. He died in 1756, shortly after Danjûrô II had retired from the stage.

The actor Sôjûrô was well-educated, practiced tea ceremony, wrote poetry, and excelled in calligraphy. His theatrical art was more realistic and less indebted to the aragoto style of the Genroku Period than was that of Danjûrô. He placed less value on unusual costumes. His manner of speaking was more natural than that of his great rivals. During his career he played all the famous roles of the tachiyaku (male roles). To the question why Danjûrô had first place in the rank list of actors before him, he replied with gentle irony that this was because Danjûrô could also be understood by children.