Yamamura Kôka (山村耕花), who also used the art name Yamamura Toyonari (山村豊成), studied with Ogata Gekkô (1859-1920) and graduated from the Tokyo Art School in 1907. He began designing actor prints at least as early as 1915, — signing with both art names — by contributing to the short-lived magazine Shin nigao ("New Portraits"). However, it was his collaboration with the publisher Shôzaburô Watanabe in the following year that provided Kôka with a means to establish an impressive body of work in the actor print genre.
He created at least 16 designs for Watanabe, including an important series of 12 prints for the series Rien no hana kagatobi ("Flowers of the Theatrical World"), published between 1920 and 1922. One of these is shown on the right, signed Toyonari ga and sealed in the lower left margin Yamamura. It depicts the actor Kataoka Nizaemon XI (1857-1934) as Sakaida Kakiemon in the play Meikô Kakiemon ("Famous Artisan Kakiemon"), first staged at the Kabuki-za, Tokyo, in November 1912.
The drama was based on an adaptation of an English novel by Samuel Smile from 1864, titled "Self Help." The Japanese version tells the story of Kakiemon of Arita and his fifteen-year effort to create red-patterned, Chinese-style pottery in competition with an unscrupulous rival potter from Imari. The tale ends with Kakiemon's ultimate success, but only after the tragic death of his elder daughter and that of his rival's son.
It is not clear which scene is depicted in Toyonari's print, but the sadness of Kakiemon is movingly evident. Toyonari was very skilled in creating portraits in profile, full of emotion and straightforward honesty. The inaugural performance of this role was given by Nizaemon XI. It proved to be one of the great hits in his late-career specialty of portraying older men in traditional kabuki plays of the Edo-Meiji periods and of the Shin kabuki ("New kabuki") of the twentieth-century. It should thus come as no surprise that Toyonari chose to include this portrait among his 12 compositions in the "Flowers" series, and it was featured in the catalogue for the influential Toledo print exhibition of 1930 (see reference below).
A different kind of composition in large ôban size is illustrated at the lower left. Self-published by Toyonari (Yamamura Kôka Print Publishing Association), it depicts a scene in a western-style dance cafe in Shanghai. It is known as "The View at New Canton", and sealed Toyonari in the lower left margin (not visible here). The date 1924 in western numerals is inscribed at the upper left above an artist seal reading Ka (an abbreviation for Kôka).
The spirit of the Jazz Age is admirably portrayed, particularly in the entertaining, repeated rhythm of the dancers. In fact, the repetition of motifs appears to be the basis for Toyonari's composition, which is perhaps a graphical equivalent of a musical form. There are a pair of passageways in the background, four pairs of dancers, six women with the same hair style (though one still wears her feathered hat), six similar dress patterns, four men in black evening dress, and two punctuating red cherries in the martini glasses. The color scheme also reflects a new sensibility for what was then the "modern age," in contrast to the typical palette of traditional ukiyo-e. Toyonari's design is a wonderful evocation of the decade of the 1920s, especially after the rebuilding began in Tokyo following the Great Kantô Earthquake of September 1923, when the fashions and music of the West were embraced enthusiastically by Asian cultures around the world. © 2001-2019 by John Fiorillo