Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as the Ghost of Seigen (Seigen)

Color woodblock print: ōban tate-e, 14½ x 9⅞ in. (36.8 x 25.1 cm); 10/1852
Series: An Imaginary Thirty-six Poets (Mitate sanjūrokkasen no uchi)
Signed: Toyokuni ga within toshidama cartouche
Censor’s seals: Muramatsu (Muramatsu Genroku); Fuku (Fukushima Wajūro)
Blockcutter: Yokogawa hori Take (Yokogawa Takejirō)
Publisher: Iseya Kanekichi 

The story of the depraved prelate Seigen, who developed a mad passion for the beautiful maiden Sakurahime (Princess Cherry Blossom)—whom he took as the reincarnation of a former lover, and for whom he broke his vows of chastity—was first adapted to Kabuki during the 1670s. The tale was a popular one and many versions of the basic plot were created. In 1805 Santō Kyōden (1761–1816) published the ghost story Sakurahime zenden akebonozōshi (The Book of Dawn: The Complete Story of Princess Cherry Blossom), in which the priest is rejected by Sakurahime, goes insane, and is expelled from the Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto. He then starves himself to death and haunts the young woman until she dies of fright.

That story was adapted for Kabuki by Tsuruya Nanboku IV in his play Sakurahime zuma bunsho, that premiered at the Kawarazaki Theater in 3/1817, and was also used for dance interludes and short plays which could be performed at any time of year. Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII (1823–1854) is show here as Seigen’s ghost, a role he played in Yami no ume yume no tamakura, a dance interlude during the New Year’s program at the Kawarazaki-za in 1/1852. His gaunt look, blackened lips, and yellow eyes gives him an appropriate spectral appearance, and his straggly beard and unkempt mass of bushy hair effectively render his dissolute nature. Iwai Kumesaburō III (1829–1882) played opposite him as Sakurahime.

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