Famous Japanese kabuki actor woodblock print, “Otani Oniji as Edobei” by Toshusai Sharaku
Ootani Tokuji as Yakko Sodesuke
When it comes to talking about Toshusai Sharaku (?-?), we can hardly discuss without taking the bold woodblock print into account. The name of the artwork is “Otani Oniji as Edobei”. More precisely, the actor is Otani Oniji Ⅲ (1759–96).
Thought it is a common saying that his fingers are really awkward and small compared with the size of the face, but the extreme deformation makes the screen impressive.
The program that the actor played the part of Edobei is “Koinyobo Somewake Tazuna” (「恋女房染分手綱」) at Kawarasaki Theater in May 1794. Like other ukiyo-e artists who drew a kabuki actor portrait, Sharaku should have watched and sketched at the theater. But nobody havs known who he was even today.
Edobei is the head of thieves in the play. He is hired by the villain Washizuka Yaheiji and attacks Yakko Ippei, the servant of the hero Date Yosaku, to rob the public funds. Sharaku also drew the portrait of Ichikawa Omezo Ⅰ(1781－1833) as Yakko Ippei at the scene.
Ichikawa Omezo as Yakko Ippei
The print of Edobei would be at the time when he makes the fierce look and intimidates Yakko Ippei. On the other hand, Yakko Ippei is drawing the sword to fight the band of thieves.
When we look at both of the ukiyo-e prints with knowledge of the scene, we can feel the tension between them.