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