Video Podcast No. 2: "Sexy Beasts"
Narrated by Charise Michelsen
The introduction of supernatural themes into Japanese erotic art dates back to the 1770s, shortly after Toriyama Sekien, best remembered as the teacher of woodblock print designer Kitagawa Utamaro, published The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons. As a parody of Sekien’s demonic characters, the shunga artist Katsukawa Shunsho produced Tales of a Hundred Vaginas, in which ordinary townsfolk are terrorized by enormous, anthropomorphized genitalia.
In the early 19th century, the public’s hunger for paranormal literature had only intensified, as evident in the commercial success of Takehara Shunsensai’s Picture Book of a Hundred Tales, but shunga began to lose its initial novelty, so in order to reinvigorate the genre, Utagawa Kuniyoshi and his contemporaries infused their erotic works with references to libidinous demon kings; shape-shifting, seductive foxes; and of course, the haunted vaginas and penises previously popularized by Shunsho. By utilizing experimental bookmaking techniques, such as page flaps that fold out to reveal hidden imagery, these artists further succeeded in reclaiming the sense of shock and transgression that surely characterized works of shunga during the genre’s early years.