Color woodblock print: ōban tate-e vertical diptych, 30¼ x 10¼ in. (76.8 x 26 cm) overall; 1814
Signed: Kunisada ga
Censor’s seals: Iwato (Iwatoya Kisaburō); kiwame (approved)
Publisher: Yamaguchiya Tōbei (Kinkōdō)
Onoe Shōroku I (1744–1815) was famous as a performer of female ghosts. In this spectacular scene, he appears as the sixteen-foot-high apparition of Princess Osakabe haunting Hayakawa Takakage, played by Ichikawa Danjūrō VII, on the battlements of Himeji castle. Shōroku’s Revival of the Story of Princess Osakabe (Matazoro Shōroku Osakabe banashi) was the first part of the program at the Ichimura Theater in 5/1814, following which Danjūrō was featured dancing in twelve quick-change roles.
The Osakabe role required a great deal of strenuous physical action to manipulate the costume, and according to the Kabuki scholar Ihara Toshirō, the seventy-year-old Shōroku was criticized for taking it on when he was well past his prime. He died the following year. Kunisada recognized Shōroku’s achievement by only naming him in this portrait, although the young Danjūrō VII bravely confronting the demon in the foreground can be easily identified by his large eyes, the peony (one of the actor’s personal emblems), and the interlocked mimasu pattern of his under-robe.