Signed: Shunkōsai Hokuei ga
Seal: Fumoto no ume
Plum tree in the foothills
Related links: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco;
This print commemorates a performance at the Naka Theater in Osaka in 1832.
"This performance of Soma Tarō mibae bundan (The story of Tarô, heir to the Soma clan) was part of a kaomise (face-showing: 顔見世), the introduction of newly engaged actors for the upcoming season. It was an adaptation of the tale of Taira Masakado (Soma no Kojirō, died 940), a general formerly with the regent Fujiwara Takahira, who maneuvered to take control of the eight eastern provinces and declare himself emperor. Takahira's warriors defeated Masakado and then his son Soma Tarō in a failed attempt to avenge his father's death.
Theatrical dramatizations featuring Masakado were infused with an atmosphere of the supernatural. Masakado had the ability to create ghostly clones of himself, and his castle in Soma (near Sendai) was said to be haunted by the shades of his retainers....
Soma Tarō is shown opening a scroll containing magical incantations, which he hopes to use against the Fujiwara. On his right, he spies his father Masakado's spirit fire flickering in the air.
Poem (signed "Jubai Shujin"):
Aoyagi no me / wa hitoshio ni / iro zo aru / ume mo tsubaki mo / ikade oyoban
(The young buds of the willow / are so colorful / how could the plum / and camellia / ever equal them?)
The verse, printed in metallics, includes the word me ("new growth"), but it also means "eyes," and refers to Rikan's expressive eyes — the actor was nicknamed metoku Rikan (Rikan with the powerful eyes). The plum is also an allusion to Rikan's stage rival, Nakamura Utaemon III.
This composition is widely considered to be one of Hokuei's masterpieces. Beyond the superb block cutting (by Kasuke, who hand-stamped his seal in the lower right corner) and sophisticated color printing, the design is celebrated for the expressive use of a startling cobalt blue in the background, contributing to the supernatural atmosphere of the scene."
This section is quoted directly from OsakaPrints.com.
Illustrated in color in a full-page reproduction in Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings - 1680-1860 edited by Julia Meech and Jane Oliver, p. 204, 2008.
"As Tarō unrolls a scroll of spells to use to avenge the death of his father, the wizard-general Masakado, he senses the spirit of his parent, manifested as a silver flame." (p. 205)