Utagawa Toyokuni I 初代歌川豊国 (1769–1825)
Sawamura Sōjūrō III as Yuranosuke in Act 7 of Kanadehon Chūshingura
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1802
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1957

Based on a historical incident that occurred in 1701–1703, Kanadehon Chūshingura, known among other English titles as The Forty-seven Rōnin, describes the tragic death of the daimyo Enya Hangan, who was forced to commit suicide after a failed attempt to defend his honor against the abuse of his superior Kō no Moronō. Hangan’s forty-seven retainers, disgraced as rōnin—samurai who lack a master—secretly plotted over the following several years to avenge Hangan’s death by gathering an arsenal, travelling to Edo city, storming Moronō’s mansion and executing him. To achieve these ends, the men and their families endured terrible hardships, but they remained committed to their mission due to the thoughtful leadership of Hangan’s most devoted follower, Ōboshi Yuranosuke.

This print by Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769–1825) depicts the actor Sawamura Sōjūrō III (1753–1801) in the role of Yuranosuke. The portrait was published shortly after the actor’s death at the age of 48. His grim, determined facial expression and the folding fan (sensu) that he holds in his right hand clearly identify Sōjūrō III’s role as that of the noble avenger Yuranosuke.

For a far more grotesque depiction of Sōjūrō III, see Nanshoku (Male Love, c. 1832) by Yanagawa Shigenobu I (1787–1832), on display elsewhere in this exhibition.

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