Kuniyoshi is the Utagawa school’s most famous artist; renowned for his prints of war, terrifying legends, and cats.
Here it depicts one of the best-known revenge stories of the Heian period (8th-12th centuries).
It is graphically inspired by a woodcut made a couple of years earlier by Hokusai, depicting Koheji Kohada’s skeleton for the One Hundred stories series (then remained unfinished) where Koheji’s colossal skeleton peeks out, lowering an insect net with his bony fingers.
In Hokusai’s work the appearance is grotesque, in line with the comic streak he was imprinting on the series.
In Kuniyoshi the spectre takes on a more terrifying appearance as realistic.
It has been speculated that Kuniyoshi obtained The New Anatomy Book, Kaitai Shinsho; a book with 40 illustrations by German physician Johann Adam Kulmus. At the time it was printed it was also very successful because of its anatomical accuracy, which was deficient in Japan.
Compared to Hokusai’s skeleton here the purpose is a different one, namely to subtly celebrate the figure of Takiyasha and her magical arts as described in the Story of Yasutaka Uto written in 1807 by the poet Santo Kyoden.
In the kabuki play, Princess Satsuki, later renamed Takiyasha, prepares for her fate by riding a huge toad Shikigami (servant spirit). She is played as a Valkyrie waving the flag with the family crest; preparing for the final duel on the rubble of the palace that she herself destroyed with an earthquake in a last-ditch effort.