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signed Kunichika hitsu with artist’s Toshidama seal, publishers seal Tsujiokame han (Tsujiokaya Kamekichi of Kinkido), combined censor and date seal U-ichi, aratame (year of the hare , 1st month, examined)
oban tate-e triptych 14 1/8 by 29 1/8 in., 35.8 by 74 cm
This composition depicts three actors in roles from the play Keisei Soga kuruwa kagami (Mirror of the Soga Tales from the Pleasure Quarters) as staged at the Ichimura Theater in 1867. The actors are identified from right to left, Kawarazaki Kunitaro (1849-1867), Sawamura Tanosuke III (1845-1878), and Ichimura Kakitsu IV (Onoe Kikugoro V, 1844-1903). While their roles are not specified, there are a number of other compositions depicting this production, including another by Kunichika featuring Kakitsu IV and Tanosuke III. In those compositions, each actor has been identified as having played multiple roles, making it difficult to determine which role is depicted here. However, based on their costume, it is likely that Tanosuke III is in the role of the courtesan Komachi O-Shizu and Kakitsu IV is in the role of Narihira Reizaburo
The roles of Reizaburo and O-Shizu are based on two of the Rokkasen (Six Poetic Immortals) from the Ise Monogatari (The Tales of Ise), Ariwara no Narihara (825-880) and Ono no Komachi (825-900). The Ise Monogatari is a collection of Heian Period (794-1185) poems and associated historical narratives thought to be compiled by Narihira himself. Though it is unlikely that the two poets ever met, let alone that they were romantically engaged with one another, they came to represent ideal love and were portrayed as a couple in this and other kabuki dramas.