Artist: Kunisada Utagawa (1786-1865)
TItle: 30. Hamamatsu, Kezori Kuemon
Series: The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido
Publisher: Izutsu-ya Shokichi
Dimensions: 25.5 x 36.3 cm
This dynamic portrait of the pirate captain Kezori Kuemon is a clear example of the Japanese compositional technique known as the kiri, or cut. By omitting details which might seem somewhat integral to traditional Western pictorial traditions, Kunisada creates a scene of aggressive movement. Based on a real incident and popularised in the bunraku theatre by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725), one of Japan’s most renowned playwright, the story of Kezori is filled with crime and drama that must have been particularly entertaining to theatregoers of the Edo period (c.1603-1868). When national borders were almost entirely sealed, the roughish and exotic nature of the pirate must have been particularly potent. The maritime theme of the print extends to the cartouche bracketed with items such as an anchor, coral, a Japanese kiseru pipe and a Western style cup along with other exotic objects. As well as adding fierceness to this outlaw character, the dragon adorning his robe further echoes the nautical theme of the print, as the mystical creature often resides in the ocean in Japanese folklore.