This print was made by Utagawa TOYOKUNI. He is one of the famous woodblock print artist and he was so popular among the people in the Edo period. Utagawa had a unique talent in drawing women and portraits of Kabuki performer and this picture is one of the Kabuki actors. His name is Onoe Matsuke II.
Before talking about the details of this woodblock print, I would like to explain about the portraits of Kabuki actors. In Japanese, we call it ‘Yakusha-e’. In this type of woodblock print, most of the artist drew about the portraits of Kabuki actors itself, but some people drew the stage, large props and other materials that they used in the Kabuki. Woodblock print is called ‘Ukiyo-e’ in Japanese. Ukiyo means ‘floating world’ so woodblock print is presenting everyday life picture. Therefore, some of the artists pictured the Kabuki actors’ everyday life.
However, in this picture there is a man who wears traditional Japanese clothes. The color is light pink and inside there is a pretty design. Obi has a flower pattern on it too. It seems like this man is in the middle class. He looks like he is getting angry at the mice. But first, I would like to start from the condition of the print. The paper was stained and it was hard to say that it was preserved in the good condition. Still, I thought that the quality of the printing was not bad. The lines were sharp and the man’s hair was so sharp and very beautiful. In addition, the color all fit in the lines, but in this picture Utagawa did not use many colors and the color was light.
Next, let’s go into the detail of the picture. As I said above, in this picture there is a man and his name is Onoe Matsuke II. He is an actor and he contributed in the Edo-Kabuki. In this woodblock, he is standing in the middle and has an angry look on his face. His eyes are staring at the mice and his eye brows are expressing his anger. He also has a disheveled hair which indicates that he cannot bear the mice anymore. The actor is pulling up the sleeves and he is ready to beat the mice. This pose is called ‘Mie’ in Kabuki. ‘Mie’ is a method to show the audience, when his feeling is running high, he stops his action and poses to the audience and stares for a moment. In this picture, he stares the mice which he is angry at.
Why is he angry at the mice? In some places, mice are believed that they are representing evil and bringing infectious disease. In addition in western countries, mice were believed that they were dangerous because mice can attack animals that are bigger than themselves. Generally speaking, people do not want mice in their house. Also, in this picture, mice are drawn by black. Black has a meaning something evil, and negative. It does not give good impression to the others. There are nine mice, and seven of them are looking at the actor. One of the mouse’s neck is not natural and it gives us a weird feeling.
In this picture, Utagawa focused on the man and the mice staring each other. He did not paint the background of the picture. This makes the viewer confused because we do not know what kind of situation they are put in. Therefore I think that Utagawa really wanted to express the Onoe Matusuke’s feeling.