Kunichika: Matsurogo Committing Seppuku

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Artist: Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)
Title: Tinker Matsugoro by Onoe Baiko (Ikake-matsu Baiko )
Date: 1872

Here we see Matsugoro, played by Onoe Baiko, committing seppuku, or ritual suicide. He is just removing the wrapped blade from his abdomen, blood everywhere and his lips purple. In his mouth he clenches some text, probably his repentance will. The title “Ikake Matsu“ , meaning Matsugoro the Tinkerer, is a common title for the Kabuki drama “Fune e uchikomu hashima no shiranami“ written by Kawateke Mokuami. It was first performed at the Morita-ya Theater in Edo in 1866. In the story, the protagonist, Matsugoro was a clever man (a tinkerer) with good morals. However,  one day as he was crossing the Ryogoku Bridge, he watched some boats gliding below on the water in which the rich were enjoying themselves. He realized how monotonous his life was, and threw his tools in the water and chose to hereafter live a life as thief. However, at the end he regretted this decision and committed seppuku.

The protagonist, Ikake Matsu was played by  the famous and popular Ichikawa Kodaniji IV, and the piece was a great hit.  However, the Edo magistrate’s office ordered the owner of the theater to stop the play due to what they considered its “immoral” content. The actor Kodanji was very shocked, and sadly died shortly after. 

According to the censor’s seal, this print was made in 1872, namely Meiji 5 and it was then that the Meiji Government in Japan had a new constitution and the legal ban must have been lifted. (With thanks to Michiko Sato-Grube for her research on this work.)

This work is beautifully printed, with an extra layer of of shiny substance added to the blood to give it a realistic touch. The blade in his hands is coated with a metallic pigment, and the black sky has some mica.

Condition: Excellent impression and color: very good condition. Areas of very minor smudging.
Dimensions: ôban (35.2 x 23.7 cm)
Signature: Toyohara Kunichika hitsu