Thursday, 15 May 2014

Nobunaga in Kabuki

Here's a second post dedicated to my "ukiyo-e digest", this time focusing on kabuki and the actors whose performance made Nobunaga popular (or unpopular!) with the masses.

The most of the pictures that I found refer to two plays.
The first one is what the website of kabuki 21 describe as "Badarai no Mitsuhide" ("Mitsuhide's Tub", the badarai was a lacquer tub used to wash the horses' legs).
Known in many variants and titles, it's the story that tries to explain Mitsuhide's rebellion and it doesn't hesitate to portray Nobunaga as bullying brute who spent most of his time degrading his retainer, apparently just to get a "reaction" out of the meek man.

In Meiji times this play was reduced in three acts, and it usually goes as "Toki-ha Ima Kikyô no Hataage" ("When the Bellflower of the Toki launched its attack", the "Bellflower" refers to the Akechi crest, and "Toki Clan" is the ancestor of Mitsuhide's clan).

The first act is called "The Banquet".
Mitsuhide was asked to take care of the preparations for a banquet at Honnoji to celebrate Nobunaga's promotion to Minister by the Imperial court.
Once Nobunaga came to inspect, though, he was bothered by the fact that Mitsuhide used the banner of his clan, portraying a bellflower, to decorate the place.

In one version, the first thing that Nobunaga did, was ripping the banners apart, as he felt that Mitsuhide was trying to overcome his authority.
In this print of 1834, we can see the actor Sawamura Tossho in one of Nobunaga's iconic moment.
Note the colourful attire, too, typical of kabuki plays: Nobunaga's is wearing an archery attire with tiger's pelts on his hips. It's something borrowed from the descriptions of his childhood, to emphasize his fiery attitude.

In another version, Nobunaga kicked away the food that Mitsuhide prepared for him.
Here's a powerful rendition by actor Bandou Mitsugorou on a print dated 1829. Note the similar attire as in the picture above.

The most of prints, though, like to depict this scene in its climax, when Nobunaga ordered Ranmaru to beat Mitsuhide with a metal fan between his eyebrows, or on his forehead, depending on the version.
The scene is usually arranged in a tryptic, and Nobunaga is usually sitting in the middle of it.
In this interpretation dated 1825, actor Ichikawa Danjuurou decided to show all of Nobunaga's rage in his features.

Here, instead, Seki Sanjuurou is enjoying the punishment of Mitsuhide, on a print dated 1858.

The second act of the play is usually known as "The badarai scene at Honnoji".
Hideyoshi and Mitsuhide's sister, Kikyo, were competing in flower arrangement. Kikyo wished to restore her brother's good name in front of his lord.
Nobunaga came to inspect the works, and was touched by Hideyoshi's composition, that made original use of a badarai. He was bothered by Kikyo's work, though, who used hydrangea flowers, that since they tended to change color, Nobunaga interpreted them as a way to say that to unify the country the leadership would change continuosly.
Nobunaga destroyed Kikyo's composition, then called Mitsuhide: both Ranmaru and Kikyo tried to calm him down, but Nobunaga first forced Mitsuhide to drink from the badarai, then ordered him to follow Hideyoshi in his campaign as a horse, then stripped him of his domains, and not yet satisfied, he made fun of how Mitsuhide's wife sold him her hair so to give employement to her husband.

Also this scene is usually depicted in a tryptic, with Mitsuhide facing the badarai as Hideyoshi and Nobunaga enjoyed the view, but for this scene I decided to pick prints that show Nobunaga dealing with Kikyo's flower composition, instead, as I was intrigued by the character of Mitsuhide's younger sister.

In this version, Nobunaga is depicted as a laid-off guy, making fun of Kikyo's composition as Mitsuhide spied from behind the scenes.
The actor here is Ichimura Uzaemon.

This is the interpretation of the same scene by Seki Sanjuurou (since this print is dated 1812, it's obvious that this actor is another generation from the one previously mentioned):
Here Nobunaga is shown in all his fury, as he destroyed Kikyo's composition with his fan.

The second plays where Nobunaga can be found are those called Taikoki, that as you can guess refer to the feats of Hideyoshi as the unifier of the country.
The one featuring Nobunaga for a brief moment is called "Ehon Taikoki", and it covers the period of 13 days when Mitsuhide managed to take control of the land after his betrayal and before his execution.
This is usually connected to the "Badarai" play, and is usually presented as its natural development.

In this play, Nobunaga usually appears on the first act only, where he's shown being assaulted at Honnoji.
He was usually portrayed as he held a bow, trying to defeat as many enemies as possible.
In this print I found him as he's holding a spear, facing his enemy Mitsuhide, portrayed by actor Jitsukawa Ezaburou.
This print deserves a few extra words, because it's a kamigata-e, a "picture from Kamigata" (a city by Osaka, famous for its prints).

Kamigata-e are peculiar because they tended to be very realistic, so they portrayed the actors with their defects and flaws, thus to made them recognizable for the fans.
Most of these prints were in fact self-printed, in a modern doujinshi fashion.

Here's another nice example, always from a Taikoki play, this time portraying Nobunaga while holding his bow as he realized Mitsuhide's betrayal:
The actor here is Ichikawa Danzou.

Sure the focus on these prints are not the historical character of Nobunaga (usually rendered as "Harunaga" because of Tokugawa censorship) but the actors that impersonated him.

Here I found two interesting prints, showing Nobunaga as portrayed by the same actor in two different renditions of the "Badarai" play:
The actor is Ichimura Uzaemon in both pics, but it's fun to see the different clothes and renditions of the character.
Look at how Nobunaga is dressed in the first print: his clothes are somehow "Barbarian-flavored".
That kind of collar shows on many prints on this page, and it rappresents Nobunaga's eccentric tastes, as to suggest the "randomness" of his character.

As we keep on talking about actors, we enter my favourite branch of ukiyo-e prints, the one dedicated to touristic and promotional themes, where the authors give their best when it comes to interpretations and inspirations.

Let's start with this print, dated 1852 and portraying actor Sukedakaya Takasuke as Nobunaga in the print collection "Rokujūyoshū", dedicated to the 60+ Old Provinces of Japan, as interpreted by artist Toyokuni:
Obviousdly Nobunaga was chosen to sponsor the depiction of "Owari", that you should recognize elegantly framed at the top-left of the print.

This print comes from the collection "Mitate Iroha Awase" by artist Kunichika, and it portrays actor Bandou Hikosaburou as Nobunaga.
This collection of prints is dedicated to the 48 divisions of Edo firefighting brigades.
Each division was rappresented by a kana, a letter of the Japanese phonetic alphabet: this print is dedicated to the sixth division, recognized with the kana "O"... Each print rappresents a character whose name starts with the kana of each brigade... So, "O" stands for "Oda Nobunaga (Harunaga)".

And to end this article, here's one of my favourite prints.
This comes from the collection "Chimei Juni ka Getsu no Uchi" ("Twelve Months of Geographical Names") by, again, Kunichika.
It portraits actor Nakamura Shikan as Nobunaga (here the name is spelled correctly, but "Oda" is rendered with different kanji).
This collection merged the months of the lunar calendar with a location where something important happened on that month.
This print depicts the "Sixth Month" and the "landscape" refers to Honnoji.
Note the bow that Nobunaga is holding, as in the kabuki plays that refer to the event!


  1. I must confess that this blog is slowly but steadily becoming one of my most interesting weekly reads. You are doing a great job with researching and stuff. I am extremely pleased by your efforts.
    The act with the flowers arranging, Hideyoshi and Kikyo does sound entertaining. Thought I am now keep having these images of Harunaga (Nobunaga) acting as Oishinbo, I am touched by the fact of the importance of the meaning of the flowers and how deep he looked into everything. Such a smart and special man.

    1. Babins >o< !!! Thank you so much for your comment <3 !!

      The idea of the play was to show him as a paranoid pèsycho, not a smart man, though XD
      It's mostly to show how that the 80% of the reasons for Mitsuhide's betrayal came from Edo fiction XD

      Must share this mental image:
      Nobu: "What the hell with this ikebana?!! ASSFSG MITSUHIDE U UNWORTHY!!"
      Kikyo: D:
      Mitsu: "MH-VABBEH."


      ...And since you liked the idea of Kikyo arranging flowers, here's the original tryptic for that scene:
      Here her name is spelled as Kichou (几帳)!
      ...By the way, she's a fictional character ^^

    2. Ora risponderò in Italiano perché non ho la forza di farlo in Inglese.
      Cosa ho imparato da questo Harunaga (Nobunaga)? Che quando ti portano a tavola qualcosa che non ti piace, devi prendere a calci vassoio e cameriere.
      Che ti devi vestire sempre colorato. Che comunque sarà stato eccentrico quanto vuoi ma si vestiva meglio di tutti. Al giorno d'oggi sarebbe stato un'icona di Vogue Japan.

      *apre l'immagine*
      Ma la tizia i fiori se li è messi in testa LMAO.
      Commenterò così:


    Non so Vogue Japan, ma se ti comporti così sicuramente diventi un'icona lombarda (x'DDDDDDD)!

    --Non prendere in giro Shuuka Bando che si è messo i fiori in testa per coprirsi la pelata ;_; !!
    I "fiori criminali" sono quelli che ha in mano! Che non sono ortensie, però XD (cambiano i dettagli di versione in versione!)