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Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Musashibō Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶) and Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Ushiwakamaru (源牛若丸) in Shiki utsushi tosa-e no futsutsuka (四季写士佐画拙)

Identifier: 1847 Kuniyoshi Benkei diptych
Description:

The story of Benkei’s encounter with the young Ushiwakamaru (牛若丸) on the Gojō Bridge is well known and has been written about many time. As the story goes, Benkei (弁慶), the warrior priest, was looking to pick up that final piece of weaponry to make his already large collection complete. He had defeated 999 warriors and taken their swords. All he needed was one more, but with Ushiwakamaru he met his match. This young man had been trained by the infamous tengu and could do things which would astound mere mortals. Flying through the air was just one of his feats.

However, that is not what concerns us here. What we care about the astounding beauty of this composition. The publisher Kameya Iwakichi must have commissioned it after a production of the dance play Shiki Utsushi Tosa-e no Futsutsuka. No longer are these two confronting each other of that famous bridge, but apparently are vying with against each other in the clouds. How ethereal. Add to that the delicate balance on the edge of Benkei’s niganata or halberd-like blade and this diptych is down-right balletic. Seeing this performance in the Ichimuraza must have been quite breathtaking. (JSV)

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Musashibō Benkei played by the young Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII leaping over a pikestaff. Specially commissioned for a single performance of Shiki utushi tosae no tsutamasa at the Ichimura-za on the 4th day of 11th month 1847.

Ex collection B. W. Robinson, ex collection C. H. Mitchell (with note by Mitchell reading:
"Ichikawa Danjurō VIII as
Musashi-bō Benkei.
Publisher (?) Kameshima.
Censors: Murata, Mera.
Production at Sho Ichimura Theatre 1847.xi.4
(Shiki utsushi Tosa-ye no tsu Tamasa)"

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