Ichikawa Ebizō as Takemura Sadanoshin


The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. In this yakusha-e (pictures of actors) by Tōshusai Sharaku, a famous Kabuki actor plays the role of an unfortunate father who commits suicide to redeem the honor of his daughter. The corner of his mouth expresses grim determination, while his hands plead forgiveness. Sharaku produced actor prints of radical design during a short period of ten months in 1794–95. His identity remains a mystery, as there are no records that give hints about the rest of his life. The exaggerated facial expressions and bold colors as in this image made Sharaku unique in his frank portrayal of his subjects, which revealed the interplay between the actor in his role as a fictional character and as an individual. Although not confirmed, it is surmised that his works were not well-received as he went against the convention of idealism and there was a sudden end to his production of new prints.

Last updated: September 25, 2015