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Unformatted text preview: sophisticated and restrained, with composition and coloring precise. Sharaku’s, by comparison, are stylistically crude. His colors sometimes clash and he seems to
lack the sureness of placement of his subject matter that is so characteristic of Japanese artists. But these ostensible failings seem only to enhance
Sharaku’s forte: the bursting, elemental energy he has infused into his
actors, whose faces and bodies are contorted with dramatic emotion.
Unlike most ukiyo-e artists, Sharaku sought to portray real people, not
simply stereotypes. It has even been speculated that he stopped producing prints so abruptly because actors were outraged at being so unflatteringly drawn. This seems absurd, since no other artist has ever captured
the spirit of kabuki as Sharaku did, and it seems much more likely that
the actors he drew fully appreciated having their dramatic skills depicted
in such a vivid, exciting manner.
Before ending this chapter, much of which deals with the lives and
pursuits of the denizens of the pleasure quarters, let me say a few words
about one habitué of the quarters who not only embodied much of
its style and spirit but even today is internationally known as a unique
product of Japanese culture, the geisha or “person of accomplishment.”
The geisha first appeared in the mid-Tokugawa period (the earliest
recorded use of the term geisha is 1751). Originally, geisha were men, The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture 203 Fig. 59 Otani Oniji III as Edohei by Sharaku (Art
Institute of Chicago) but gradually they became exclusively female. Although most geisha
worked in the pleasure quarters or “floating worlds,” they were also considered to occupy, in a sense, their own realm, called the “flower and
willow world” (karyûkai).
Geisha were entertainers, skilled as singers, dancers, storytellers, and
conversationalists, who were employed at parties and other social affairs
primarily to entertain men. There was supposed to be a clear distinction
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- Spring '13