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Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Soga no Gorō (1898)

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About the Art

Soga no Gorō is poised, sword lifted high in rage, ready to fight his opponent. Pictured in deep creams, wines and blues, Kunichika expresses the drama and movement of the scene with his intricate line work. Renowned Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX was often portrayed by Kunichika, seen here in the play "The Illustrated Tale of the Soga Brothers".

 A tale of honour and duty, revenge and vendetta, the story of the Soga brothers is regarded as the last of the 'Gunki Monogatari', or "greatwar tales", and originates from the 12th century. Based somewhat on a true story, the plot surrounds two young brothers, Soga Jūrō and Soga Gorō.

When the brothers were infants, Suketsune murdered their father in a fight over land rights. As they grew up, the brothers trained to become skilled Samurai fighters; awaiting the day that they could avenge their father. But eighteen years passed, and Suketsune had risen in the ranks to become a powerful councillor of the Shogun, making the task all the more difficult.

One day the brothers heard that Suketsune was close by on a hunting trip with the Shogun. They waited for the cloak of night, snuck into his tent and killed him. A fight broke out with the Shogun’s men, Soga Jūrō was killed and Soga Gorō was captured then later executed. Although a classic operatic tragedy, this Kabuki story was seen positively, as a tale that restores family honour.

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