Kunichika: Cat Ghost Diptych (Sold)

  • Sold.

Artist: Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)
Title: Bando Hikosabura as the ghost of the Cat Demon and Bando Danya as Tomochiyo
Date: 1863

We see a terrifying demon cat take up the entire background of this scene, while a woman with cat ears and cat paws seems to be running for her life, a young man to her left, also turning tail. We don’t see who is pursuing them, but the fun for the audience must have been the giant ghost cat appearing out of nowhere while the characters are oblivious to it. The story is based on the history of of the  Saga Clan佐賀藩, which was succeeded by the  Nabeshima鍋島 Family from Ryuuzoji 龍造寺 family in the 16th century when Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu had decided to designate the Nabeshima Family as the Daimyo of East Hizen in Kyushu.  

The exact Kabuki story is difficult to pinpoint, but the story broadly told is: Ryuzoji Mataichiro was killed by Nabeshima Katsushige, the new Lord of Saga, due to a  quarrel while they were playing go game. Mataichiro’s favorite cat then carried his decapitated head to his mother, who commits suicide,  but before dying she entrusted her cat to avenge her son’s killing. In other versions of the event, the cat licks up her mistress’s blood and is possessed by her vengeful spririt, or onryo, thus becoming a bakeneko. She then assumed the appearance of the lord of Saga’s consort. Other strange things kept happening in Saga Province since that terrible occurrence. Katsushige’s vassal Hanzaemon wants to get to the bottom of the situation and waits one night to guard the room, where he observed the  shadow of Katsushige’s wife (consort), Toyo, behaving strangely. Eventually he found out that the ghost of of the cat was disguised as Toyo and this spirit was torturing Katsushige. Uzaemon killed the cat and the peace in Saga  was restored. The Kabuki version is based on the picture book by Segawa Jyookoo.瀬川如皋, of which the 5thPage of “Danmari だんまり”seems to match the scene.

Here Bando Hikosaburo 坂東彦三郎 as ghost of the demon cat 猫の精and Bando Danya ?坂東団弥?as Tomochiyo友千代. The scene is from a Kabuki drama that was performed August 1864 at Nakamura-za, Edo, perhaps “The Story of the Cat Demon of Fair Saga”. 

Condition: Good impression, color and condition. Some trimming and paper thinning.

Dimensions: ôban Diptych (each sheet approx. 35 x 23 cm)
Signature: Kunichika ga