How to Express the Kabuki Spectacle

A closer look at the composition that shows the eruption of Mt. Asama

Eruption of Mt. Asama, Magic Lantern Slides (明治21年9月10日 1888 ホリ銀) by Toyohara KunichikaKeio University Library

The impact of this piece is amplified by a composition consisting of three pictures within a single Ukiyo-e, with a red lightning bolt cutting vertically and horizontally through the darkness as the male figure in the headband glares on.

This is a piece by Toyohara Kunichika depicting a scene from the kabuki program “The Eruption of Mt. Asama, Magic Lantern Slides” (Otonikiku Asama no Utsushie).

This kabuki program, a creation of Kawatake Mokuami that enjoyed great contemporaneous renown after it premiered at the Nakamuraza Theatre in Asakusa in October 1888 with Onoe Kikugoro V playing the lead, was inspired by the major disaster of the eruption of Mt. Bandai which occurred on July 15, 1888.

The circumstances of the eruption of Mt. Bandai, as the first major disaster of the Meiji Era, were subsequently visualized in a variety of ways. This included photography and magic lanterns, new technologies for Japan of that time, with widespread reporting to the populace through newspapers and photography and lantern slide shows.

Onoe Kikugoro V, who regularly attended and was strongly influenced by these photography and lantern slide shows, together with Kawatake Mokuami, a celebrated kabuki dramatist of the time, dramatized the upheaval of the eruption in this tale, which replaces the name of Mt. Bandai with Mt. Asama in its program title, based on images they saw at the slide shows.

The suddenness of the eruption is expressed in the red lines of lightning’s flash on the black cloth of the background,

with Onoe Kikugoro V, who plays the outlaw and main protagonist Hatsuzo, depicted as the large figure in the center of the image.

His sleeves are emblazoned with a “Yokikotokiku” dyeing pattern, which was Kikugoro’s calling card, and which includes a yoki axe, a koto zither, and a chrysanthemums (kiku).

His hair in disarray from the blast is represented in fine, curved lines.

With the violently rendered sliding door and snapped pillar depicted to express the way in which the eruption flattened houses instantaneously.

In the circular frame on the left people monitor the scene of the eruption,

In the circular frame on the right, in front of the posing Kikugoro, the mountain erupts, spewing rocks and smoke, with these respective depictions of the volcano expressed in a photorealistic manner.

In the second act of this kabuki program, “Site of the eruption of Mt. Asama,” actual slides of the eruption of Mt. Bandai are projected in front of the stage to visually convey the violence of the eruption to the audience in a realistic manner.

Kunichika narratively expresses the uproar of the great eruption via the daring colors and composition of the piece, while also deploying circular frames to depict the sight of a stage production using a slide projector, which was innovative for that time.

Credits: Story

Ukiyo-e paintings in this exhibition will be included in the "George S.Bonn Collection of Ukiyo-e in the Meiji period".
About George S.Bonn Collection of Ukiyo-e in the Meiji period

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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