THE DRAMA OF THE
CHUSHINGURA - (continued)
The Eleven Scenes portrayed by Masayoshi and Hokusai (Kako).
ONE of the earliest complete sets illustrating the Chushingura, a record of which has been noted,
is a large oblong series by Kitao MASAYOSHI (1761-1824), about 1790, with the title Ukiye Kanadehon Chushingura,
which may be translated
A Perspective Copy of the Loyal Retainers, Kanadehon meaning
such as is given to school-children as an exercise in copying.
Chushingura is made up of three words, or characters, signifying
Treasury (of) Loyal Retainers.
This series by Masayoshi consists of eleven scenes, each showing two or more episodes in one scene, and is very rare. Act VII of it is represented in the British Museum collection. The following acts have come under observation:-
Act IV. Lady Kawoyo seated receiving the commissioners who have brought sentence of death on her husband; outside Yuranosuke showing Yenya's retainers the dirk with which their lord committed seppuku, as they pass out across the moat of the castle.
Act V. Rain scene. The murder of Yoichibei by Sadakuro, and Kampei hunting the wild boar.
Act VII. The tea-house Ichiriki, at Kyoto. In the centre, Yuranosuke, blind-folded, plays with the tea-house girls, three ronin, Yazama Jiutaro, Takemori Kitahachi, and Senzaki Yagoro, looking on. On the right, in another room, the letter-reading scene with Kudayu hiding under the balcony; in a room behind, on the left, Yuranosuke and Kudayu eating together.
In the open garden behind, on the right, is the litter which brought Kudayu to the tea-house, with the big stone inside; on the left the dead Kudayu being dragged out by Heiyemon, and Yuranosuke squatting on the veranda spurning him with his foot.
Act IX. Honzo arriving outside Yuranosuke's house; inside, Tonase about to take her daughter's life, is interrupted
Act X. In the centre, the ronins' attack on Gihei, who is seated on the chest, defying them; in the distance through an open screen is seen a vista of buildings by the canal-side, and Gihei's wife, O-Sono, being set upon by other ronin, while on the left she is shown trying to gain admission to the house.
The term Ukiye, applied to this and other Chushingura series, means
bird's-eye view pictures, that is, pictures drawn after European canons with deep and elaborate perspective.
Other conventions traditional to Ukiye pictures are the red clouds framing the picture above, and the long
descriptive label at the right-hand side. These characteristics are well shown in the early Chushingura
set by Hokusai (about 1798) which we describe next, and they are also found in sets designed later by other artists,
such as that by Shunsen described in Chapter XXIX, who have evidently modelled their scenes
upon this set of Hokusai's.
It is characterized by the relatively small size of the figures, which are unusually tall in proportion, and by the very deep perspective in which the scene is set. This early set is uncommon, and it is rarely met with in good condition; the outline, particularly of the figures, is slight, and it relies for effect more upon the colour-scheme than upon the drawing. The predominating colours are red and pink opposed to yellow, greyish-blue, and green.
The following are the scenes comprised in this series issued by Hokusai through the publisher Iseya Rihei (Iseri) over the signature Kako. It is not dated, but is generally attributed to about the year 1798.
The actual size of each print is 12¼ in. by 8 in. (engraved area), compared to 15¼ by 10¼ in. in the large yoko-ye sets described in our previous chapter.
Title: Shimpan Ukiye Chushingura (
New edition Perspective Chushingura Pictures).
Act I. In the grounds of the Hachiman Temple, Tsuruga-oka (Kamakura), looking out across the Bay of Yedo. (See Plate 39.)
In the earliest impressions (vide set in the British Museum collection) Fuji is shown in the distance across the
bay, but in the majority it is omitted. The kiwame (
perfect) seal appears on copies both with and without
Fuji. On the right the temple buildings; in the centre the tall figure of Lady Kawoyo, at whose feet kneels Yenya, Moronao
on the right, and Wakasa, behind a tall pine tree, on the left; retainers squatting in the background.
Act II. In front of a pine tree, on the left, stands Wakasa on the veranda of his house, looking at Honzo who has just
cut off a branch of the tree, saying,
So let the enemies of my lord perish by his hand.
In the background, on the veranda, overlooking the garden and lake, Konami receiving Rikiya, while her mother Tonase and another woman watch proceedings from behind the partition.
Act III. Scene in the grounds outside the Castle of Kamakura. Kampei, behind whom stands Okaru restraining him, threatening to kill the prostrate Bannai, whose followers are either running away or else throwing themselves into the moat. On the further side of the moat, Yenya is being taken to his castle in a norimono, under an escort, a prisoner.
Act IV. In a large room of his house, overlooking gardens through which flows a stream, Yenya is seated on a mat
prepared for seppuku, while Rikiya prostrates himself before him, in response to his lord's question
whether his chief councillor, Yuranosuke, who was away in Harima while these events took place, has yet arrived.
He is not yet come, your lordship, replies Rikiya.
Alas! and yet I wished so greatly to see him once more in life; there is so much to be arranged -- but now ----
And with these last words the unfortunate Yenya gives himself the fatal stroke, when at this moment Yuranosuke,
followed by a crowd of other retainers, bursts into the room, starts when he sees his lord's plight, then duly
makes his obeisance. With his last breath, Yenya exchanges a few hurried words with his councillor, adding this final exhortation:
Yuranosuke - this sword - my dying gift to you - you will do what is best.
With a last effort he throws aside the weapon, and expires.
On Yenya's left are the two commissioners, Ishido Umanojo and Yakushiji Jirozayemon. During the fulfilment of their duties, the latter behaves very truculently and callously towards the condemned man, a behaviour which the other commissioner, Ishido, tries his best to counteract by being as considerate as possible. Yakushiji, however, meets his due reward at the hands of Rikiya in the final act. [1.]
Act V. Scene at nightfall during a thunderstorm, on the road between Kyoto and the village of Yamazaki. Yoichibei, father-in-law of Kampei, being murdered by Sadakuro, a reprobate son of Kudayu, both disloyal retainers of Yenya. Down a steep slope on the left rushes the wild boar, Kampei's shot at which finds its mark in Sadakuro as the latter jumps aside to escape its onset.
In the background the meeting of Kampei and Yagoro.
(In some very early copies a flash of lightning is indicated as well as rain in the black sky, but it is generally omitted.)
Act VI. The house of Yoichibei, father of Okaru, at Yamazaki. Okaru standing in an outer room weeping at having to leave her husband and parents, while behind is seated Kampei with his musket on the floor in front of him. On the left squatting on the floor are the two kago-bearers, while Okaru's mother looks out from an inner room. Outside Yagoro and Goyemon, disguised with the basket hats worn by komuso, approach along a path, and further off again are huntsmen bringing home the dead body of Yoichibei on a stretcher.
Act VII. The Ichiriki tea-house at Kyoto. On the veranda stands Yuranosuke intervening to save Okaru from the zeal of her brother Heiyemon, who, having seen her reading the letter which the former had just received from Lady Kawoyo concerning Moronao, was about to kill her for fear of her divulging its contents.
Under the veranda-floor crouches the spy Kudayu, and on the left Bannai opens the kago, in which the former has placed a huge stone to deceive the bearers when they take it away.
(At this point Kudayu, pretending that nothing is to be got out of Yuranosuke, makes as though to leave the tea-house in company with his bosom friend Bannai, and calling up his kago-bearers, invites the latter to enter it. Bannai declines on the ground that Kudayu is the older man and therefore better entitled to it.
Kudayu, thereupon, enters the kago, but deftly gets out on the other side and creeps under the
veranda. Bannai, thinking he has taken his seat in the kago, continues to carry on the conversation,
but receiving no reply, draws back the blind to find only a huge stone inside. Giving vent to his astonishment,
he looks round perplexed, and suddenly hears himself addressed from under the veranda by Kudayu, who explains his
trick and the reasons for it, adding,
Meanwhile, accompany the kago as if I were in it.
I understand, answers Bannai, who, giving the word to the kago-bearers, goes off.)
Act VIII. Scene on the coast road from Yedo to Kyoto, at Tago. The Bridal Journey of Tonase and her daughter Konami to Yamashima to find Rikiya.
On the right, the road, crowded with travellers and coolies, passes over a steep eminence from a village beyond lying at the water's edge. (See Plate 39.)
Act IX. Yuranosuke's house at Yamashima in winter-time. In the centre Tonase about to draw a sword and kill her daughter and then herself, is interrupted by O-ishi, wife of Yuranosuke, who approaches with a wooden stand in her hand. Behind O-ishi appears Yuranosuke, looking out from an inner room. In the background is Honzo, disguised as a komuso, coming in at the open gate. (See Plate 39.)
(O-ishi, indignant at Honzo's conduct in his stooping to bribe Moronao in order to buy off the latter's hostility towards Wakasa, while Yuranosuke refused to lend himself to such practices in the case of Yenya, though urged to do so by Ohowashi Bungo, one of Yenya's retainers, declines to allow the proposed marriage of her son, Rikiya, to Honzo's daughter, Konami. This refusal so mortifies the mother and daughter, that Konami begs Tonase to take her life, rather than suffer the indignity of divorce. To this Tonase (really her stepmother) agrees, adding she will follow her daughter's fate at the same time.
At the moment when she is about to give the fatal stroke with the sword, the shrill notes of Honzo's pipe arrest
her hand. A second time she raises her arm, but ere the blow descends, a voice calls out loudly,
Irresolute, she looks round for the source of this second interruption, and relaxes the grasp of the sword. Seeing nothing, and Honzo's piping ceasing, she concludes it is addressed to the komuso to bid him depart.
A third time she essays the fatal stroke; again a voice calls out,
What can this mean? exclaims the perplexed Tonase.
Is it to send away the komuso with his dole,
or is it to stay my hand?
It is to stay your hand, cries O-ishi, entering at this moment, carrying a small white-wood stand;
my son Rikiya shall marry your daughter, whose behaviour has called forth my admiration as much as her
unfortunate position has aroused my compassion.
This marriage, distasteful though it is to me, shall take place; but in return I must ask as a bridal gift
the head of Kakogawa Honzo placed upon this stand - at the same time setting the stand down on the matting
before Tonase, who expresses astonishment at such a request.
At this moment Honzo, who has overheard everything, enters, throwing off his disguise, and smashes the stool by stamping on it.)
Act X. The house of Amakawa-ya Gihei at the seaport of Sakai. An analogue of the scene in which Gihei, standing on the chest concealing Yuranosuke, defies the ronin, sent to test him, to make him reveal the whereabouts of the armour. Here Gihei, in the porch of his house, has leapt on to a wooden stand, and is attacked in play by a party of children. In the distance are seen the ronin approaching along the quayside, while at the gate of the house is O-Sono, Gihei's wife, seeking admission.
Act XI. The attack on Moronao's castle. On the right Moronao discovered in his hiding-place, who defends himself with the bundles of firewood against attack; on the left one of the ronin stands on the roof and shoots an arrow at one of Moronao's retainers, who is attacked by another ronin.