Kunisada: Broken Plate Ghost Okiku by Kyosai and Kichisaburô III as Asayama Tetsuzan

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
Title: Man (10,000; = Ra) Brigade, First Group, Banchô: Actor Arashi Kichisaburô III as Asayama Tetsuzan
Series: Edo no hana meisho-e (Flowers of Edo and Views of Famous Places)江戸の花名勝会

Date: 1863

In the play Banshû Sarayashiki we learn the story of Okiku, one of Japan’s most famous ghost stories. Okiku was wrongly framed and blamed for losing the tenth dish in an important set of ten dishes. The evil villain Tetsuzan has her killed and thrown into a well after making her count the dishes, knowing that there are only 9, as he has broken the tenth one. She becomes a vengeful ghost who rises from the well and may be heard counting up to nine and then wailing. Tetsuzan, shown lower right, strikes a kabuki pose as the ghost of Okiku rises up into the top left panel, startling a night watchman who has dropped his clappers and whose lantern has burst into flames. These roundels that contain the two upper figures were probably meant to imitate magic lantern slides.

The term “Flowers of Edo” (Edo no hana) here refers to the terrible and common occurrence of fires, for which there were many fire brigades active throughout the city. The title panel shows the lanterns and identifying standard (matoi) for the brigade of firefighters (hikeshi) assigned to this district.  The title gives the name or number of a brigade, its group, and its district, followed by the kabuki scene chosen to match it. There is a lot going on in each design, as in the upper right are the standards and lanterns for specific fire brigades, and on the upper left are usually magic lantern slides. Then there are one or two designs that comprise the lower portion, with Kunisada designing the actor portrait and various (21! in total for the series) other artists designing the landscape scenes. 

Other artist: Kawanabe Kyôsai (Japanese, 1831–1889)

Signatures: Toyokuni ga, in toshidama cartouche (bottom right); Gakôjin Tokyô (utsushi-e figures at top); Obake Kyôsai ga (ghost at top); Ôju Seisei Chikamaro (bottom left)

Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. 
Dimensions: ôban (35.1 x 24.2 cm)
Publisher: Katôya Iwazoô (Seibei)
Literature: See MFA website and FAMSF, Waseda University websites. A reference book has been privately published by Simon Henry that examines this entire series.
Signature: Toyokuni ga