Kibyōshi are Edo period adult “comic books,” mostly in vogue in the late 18th century. They were popular, fashionable and humorous, which means critics with a penchant for “serious” literature (i.e., the entire literary establishment for the first century of the modern period) have ignored them. However, there are a lot of interesting things going on in kibyōshi, and recently they’ve started to attract a lot of attention.
I want to look at one particular kibyōshi by Santō Kyōden, arguably the master of the genre, titled Kyakujin jorō 客人女郎. To give credit where it is due, this work was originally brought to my attention while I was reading an article by Haruko Iwasaki. Iwasaki treats Kyakujin jorō as one of Kyōden’s failed works. And to be fair, it doesn’t seem to have sold very well, and is a bit underwhelming for a work that is sandwiched chronologically between Kyōden’s greatest hits, Gozonji no shōbaimono and Edo umare uwaki no kabayaki. Nonetheless, I think there’s more going on in Kyakujin jorō than Iwasaki gives it credit for.
I’m a huge Tezuka Osamu fan, so you’ll probably see plenty of posts about him here (eventually). One of the things I’ve always found interesting about his work is the way he handles violence. In his more mature works he neither shies away from depicting violence (think of the classic PG-13 device of showing a gun against someone’s head but panning away before the gunshot), but nor does he pornographically glorify or fetishize violence like so many works do (think ridiculous fountains of blood, people clinging to life so their lurid suffering can be prolonged, etc.). Tezuka displays violence, but depicts it as tragic, brutal and cruel.
I was reminded of this while rereading a volume of Hi no tori (Phoenix). Hi no tori is a fictional history of Japan spanning from pre-history to the distant future. Volume 8 covers the turmoil at the end of the 12th century. Specifically, I’m looking at the scenes that depict Kiso Yoshinaka’s army plundering the capital. This is one of those events that doesn’t get much attention in textbook history, mostly because it’s kind of just a prelude to the big historical event; Minamoto no Yoshitsune leading Genji forces to defeat first Yoshinaka and then the entire Heike clan. But one of Hi no tori‘s projects is revealing the human tragedy behind footnotes in history.
I want to examine three consecutive pages that portray this incident. The images below are depictions of violence and might be NSFW.