Onoe Matsusuke II as Rokusaburō, the Carpenter (Daiku Rokusaburō)

Color woodblock print, with mica background: ōban tate-e, 14¾ x 10 in. (37.5 x 25.4 cm); 1815
Series: Greatest Hit Plays (Ōatari kyōgen no uchi) 
Signed: Gototei Kunisada ga
Censor’s seal: kiwame (approved) 
Publisher: Kawaguchiya Uhei (Fukusendō)

The actor Onoe Matsusuke II (1784−1849)—he became Kikugorō III in 1815—was the adopted son of Onoe Shōroku. From Shōroku he learned the quick-change techniques needed to play ghosts, and Kikugorō soon established a reputation as a specialist in the sub-group of vengeful spirits. These parts were often written for him by his friend, the playwright Tsuruya Namboku IV. Kikugorō’s quick-change technique became so adept that he was able to take up to nine roles in the same production.

As a rising star in 1815, Kikugorō was also noted for his performances in works depicting the life of the lower classes. He is shown here as Rokusaburō, a carpenter in Mijikayo Ukina no Chirashi-gaki by Fukumori Kyūsuke (1767–1818) and Segawa Jokō II (1757–1833), a drama set among the timber yards of Fukagawa. The play premiered at the Nakamura Theater in 7/1813. The climax of the performance featured a large tank of water onstage in which Kikugorō wrestled with a giant carp spirit, which doubtless provided both the actor and the audience with some relief from the oppressive summer heat. Kunisada portrays the actor wearing a blue-and-purple cotton robe lined with a tie-dyed red fabric and decorated with the four flattened circles of his alternative crest. Around his neck is a pink-tinged cotton hand towel to mark his status as a hard-working craftsman.

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