Ichikawa Danjuro IX

YOSHITOSHI TSUKIOKA: Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Benkei in The Subscription List: 1890

Ichikawa Danjuro IX was a friend of Yoshitoshi's, and shared with him an abiding concern over the rapid modernisation and Westernisation of Japan. Here, he is shown in one of the most popular kabuki scenes of the time. It is set in the flight of Yoshitsune and Benkei from the homicidal jealously of Yoshitsune's half-brother, the Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo. Disguised as Buddhist monks, the small party had to get past some suspicious sentries. Benkei, thinking quickly, unrolled a blank scroll and pretended to be reading a list of supporter-donors, and the sentries let them pass.

This is one of Yoshitoshi's most popular prints. I love it, and am at a loss to explain why. It could be because I am a big fan of the present Ichikawa Danjuro (XII), the only actor I have ever seen who could match Olivier for the capacity to set a scene on fire standing still. The only thing better than watching a scene with Ichikawa Danjuro XII, is watching one with both Danjuro and his son, whose talent is such that he is surely destined to inherit what has become the most illustious name in kabuki.1

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Yoshitoshi biography.
1 There are several practises at work here: first, kabuki acting runs in families, and, if the family does not have a suitable or interested heir, someone is adopted. Second, names are passed on, although that is not a guaranteed inheritance nowadays. Ichikawa Danjuro is considered by most to be the most illustrious name in kabuki, so it is important that the heir be worthy. In practise, that seems to mean that he will be designated by the consensus of the most powerful and respected actors in the trade.

 

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