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Artist: Shunkōsai Hokushū (春好斎北洲)

Print: Arashi Kitsusaburō I (嵐橘三郎) as Hyōgonokami Yorimasa (兵庫頭頼政)
in the play Yorimasa Nue Monogatari (頼政鵺物語)

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Dates: 1821,published
Dimensions: 10.25 in,14.75 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Shunkōsai Hokushū ga
春好斎北洲画
Publisher: Toshikuraya Shinbei (Marks 539 - seal 25-553)

Related links: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Waseda University; Tokyo Metropolitan Library ; Freer/Sackler Galleries; Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, Leiden; Hankyu Culture Foundation;

Physical description:

Against a grey ground the actor Arashi Kitsusaburō I as Hyogonokami Yorimasa holding a bow and arrow in the play 'Yorimasa Nue Monogatari' performed at the Hori-e Theatre in 8/1821. It would seem that Arashi Kitsusuaburō I must have been ill during most of the first half of 1821, for there is no mention of any performance between the New Year and this date. The actor began playing this role on the second day of the month, but by the 11th, he had fallen ill again. Makamura Itcho stood in for him, but on the 12th Kitsusaburō could still not continue; he withdrew from the production on the 13th. He rested at the theater until the 19th, returning home by boat that evening. On the morning of the 26th he died. Many of the memorial prints issued following his death portray the actor in this role, including one by Hokushū. This print, however, makes no mention of his death and was probably issued before his illness, unwittingly memorializing the actor's last role. A heavily trimmed example is illustrated in Schwaab Osaka Prints, cat #34 page 77.

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There are four other prints in the Lyon Collection which deal with the theme of Yorimasa's slaying of the nue: #200, a triptych by Kuniyoshi; #584 by Shunshi; #909 by Kuniyoshi; and #1170 by Ashiyuki.

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The story of the slaying of the nue appears in Book 4, Section 15 - 'The Nightbird' - of The Tale of Heike. The emperor has been disturbed by nightmares and it was thought that these must have a physical manifestation. So, Yorimasa is called in to slay the monster which is causing these nightly disturbances. Below is the translation provided by Royall Tyler:

At the hour foreseen for His Majesty's torment, a black cloud moved, as those who knew said it would, from toward the grove at Tōsanjō, then settled over where the emperor lay. Yorimasa, glancing up sharply, saw iin it a strange shape. He knew he was finished if he missed.

Nonetheless he took an arrow,
fitted it carefully to the string,
called in the secret depths of his heart,
"Hail, Great Bodhisattva Hachiman!,"
drew to the full, and let fly.
He had a hit; his arm felt it.
"Got him!" He gave the archer's yell.
I no Hayata swiftly approached,
found where the thing had fallen,
and ran it through nine times with his sword
Everyone there brought up light
for a good look at whatever it was:
a monkey's head, a badger's body,
a snake's tail, the limbs of a tiger,
and a cry like that of a thrush.
"Frightening" is hardly the word.

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Illustrated in Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei (Collected Kamigata Actor Prints), vol. 1, Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka 1997, no. 101.