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Posted by Dave Bull at 3:43 PM, November 28, 2005

"Just a minute!!" One of the most dramatic moments in the entire kabuki repertoire; as the loud voice rings out from the hana-michi walkway in the middle of the auditorium, all eyes turn to see the actor who has just entered.

As always with this role, it will be a member of the Ichikawa clan - in this case Ichikawa Ebizo, performing in 1796. He strikes an incredibly theatrical pose, his face drawn into an exaggerated scowl and his angular and voluminous clothing creating the most wonderful dramatic effect.

So much of that wonderful scene is packed into the tiny rectangle of this print; the samurai-eboshi headgear, the sujikuma vermillion makeup, and even his armored breast-plate. But dominating the image, as it must dominate the scene in the auditorium, is the famous Ichikawa family crest emblazoned on his hugely oversized sleeves - the three nested sake cups on rust-brown fabric.

We instantly know who this is, and what is about to happen - the bad guys are about to be put to rout. There is no scene in any theatre in the world more cliched than this, and none that is more eagerly anticipated by the audience.

The man who designed this print was Utagawa Kunimasa, and in my view, it is astonishing to think that this was created more than 200 years ago - it looks 'modern' enough to have been drawn just yesterday. What an incredible impact prints like this must have made when they first started arriving in Europe!

It has been twenty-five years since I first set foot in Japan, but I have yet to visit the kabuki theatre. In this I am not particularly unusual - I am sure that many, perhaps most, Japanese have never been either. I suppose that somewhere along the line, I will get a chance to go, and I suspect that when I do, I will feel right at home; after all, one can't be involved with making Japanese prints for twenty-five years without developing some kind of understanding of kabuki, just by osmosis!

Monday, November 28, 2005

(Here's the print in context in the Treasure Chest series.)


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