Supernatural Shunga: What Lurks Beneath the Sheet?

Some of the primary challenges that shunga artists faced when dealing with supernatural subject matter were similar to those confronted by contemporary filmmakers: how to pace the narrative, build dramatic tension, and release that tension at a particular point in the story. The fact that these parodies were erotic in nature and that the artist sought to further infuse them with sexual tension heightened the importance of such pacing.

Japanese painters working in the formats of hanging scrolls, handscrolls and screens traditionally employed techniques such as continuous narration (iji dōzu) to relate a complex story within a static image. In continuous narration, a single figure was depicted multiple times in the same scene to convey sequential actions performed by the character. However, the book format in which most shunga was produced offered artists other compositional opportunities, since their scenes were gradually unveiled with the turning of each page. In order to accentuate particularly explosive moments in the narrative, shunga artists sometimes employed fold-outs: flaps that were adhered to pages in the book and that could be lifted to reveal hidden images underneath.