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Sakata Hangorō III as the Villian Fujikawa Mizuemon (1794)

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About the Art

Reaching up his sleeve, Mizuemon’s piercing eyes evoke an uneasy feeling of suspicion as he readies himself to draw his sword.

This scene comes from the play "The Iris Soga Story of the Bunroku Period", and is a typical 'adauchi mono' or "revenge play". Kabuki plays originate from dramatised stories of real life contemporary Japanese society. However, as time passed, Kabuki playwrights adapted them by combining them with other popular tales. This is why the family name ‘Soga’ features in so many. 

The plot is based on the revenge of Ishii Genzo against his rival Mizuemon. The evil Mizuemon corrupts Ishii Hyoe, father of two boys, into thinking that his wife is being adulterous. This provokes him into killing her, and years later the brothers seek revenge for their mother’s death.

Sharaku proves that you can create drama and tension using just a simple colour palette. The grey background, which so often featured in his works, used 'mica'; a glossy powder made from finely milled mother-of-pearl. Unlike many yakusha-e artists, Sharaku often exaggerated the negative features of the actor, particularly when playing villainous roles. Sharaku’s life is a mystery as he seemingly appeared and promptly disappeared out of nowhere. Although he created nearly 150 incredible prints, his working life as an artist spanned a period of only ten months, and there is no evidence of him having had any professional training.

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