Read The Case of the Sharaku Murders Online

Authors: Katsuhiko Takahashi

The Case of the Sharaku Murders (10 page)

The logical place to begin is with the town hall. Then I'll go to the local historical society—if there is one—or the public library. Or maybe I should start by interviewing someone associated with the mine…

Ryohei jotted down these ideas in his notebook. It would probably be hard to find someone connected to the mine back in Sato's time. That had been seventy years ago. If there
was
anyone whose memory stretched that far back, they would be nearly ninety by now. What's more, Sato had only worked at the mine for a few years, so it was unlikely the person would remember him.

Another possibility was to try to trace him through the town's death registry. But Ryohei thought the chances of that were pretty small. Sato had been from Shizuoka originally. He had only come to Kosaka for work. When he died, his remains mostly likely would have been returned to his hometown for burial.

Maybe coming all the way up here was a waste of time
.

Ryohei chaffed at his predicament. The fact that Saeko was with him only made his frustration worse.

She'll laugh at me for being inept
.

If the situation became too bleak, Ryohei would have to say something to Saeko. He had become less and less sure of himself since leaving Tokyo and he was starting to feel discouraged.

But that catalogue is for real. That's one thing I can be sure of
.
Ryohei repeated this refrain over and over again in his head. Just then, he heard a tapping sound on the large pane of brown-tinted glass to his right. He looked up to see Saeko standing on the other side, smiling. She had tracked him down in the café. She wore a dark-red blazer over a white blouse and skirt. The folder Ryohei had given her was tucked under her arm.

She looks like a movie star!

The tinted glass was like a movie screen with Saeko's image projected onto it. It was already twenty past seven. Ryohei waved, then got up and left the café.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Saeko apologized, placing the palms of her hands together in a gesture of apology.

“That's okay. I was just getting ready for tomorrow.”

“Oh, in that case, I needn't have hurried.”

“I see you changed.”

“Of course. You didn't expect me to walk into a restaurant wearing
that
getup, did you? This hotel is a bit swanky,” she replied, pushing her hair away from her shoulders. Ryohei caught a whiff of makeup mixed with soap.

THEY SAT DOWN at a table and Ryohei ordered a veal cutlet. Saeko choose poached salmon in cream sauce.

“Care for a drink?” Ryohei asked. Saeko nodded, and Ryohei added two glasses of dark beer and a chicken salad to their order.

“Mmm, this salad is delicious!” exclaimed Saeko, still holding her fork in front her mouth.

“This area's famous for its chicken… Hinaidori, it's called. It's supposed to be as good as the Cochin variety from Nagoya.”

“I wish you'd told me; I'd have ordered the sautéed chicken,” lamented Saeko, looking like she really meant it.

“I can add it to our order if you like.”

“No way. This beer already puts me way over my calorie limit for the day.”

On the table, a candle sat floating in a glass, its flame flickering silently and casting a warm glow on Saeko's smiling face.

“Now, then. How about that folder I gave you? Did you get a chance to look through it?” asked Ryohei as the two sat sipping coffee at the end of their meal.

“More or less.”

“So what do you think?”

“How should I know? I skipped the difficult parts. And you didn't include any pictures, so it was hard to follow some of the visual analysis.”

“You mean of Sharaku's work?”

“Gimme a break!
That
much I know. I mean the parts about other artists who might have been Sharaku. Like Hokusai… Well, I've got a pretty good idea what
his
work looks like. But Maruyama Okyo? I haven't the foggiest.”

“No, I guess you wouldn't.”

“Does Okyo's work resemble Sharaku's?”

Come to think of it, Ryohei himself didn't really know.

Okyo had lived in Kyoto and founded what has become known as the Maruyama-Shijo School. He is also said to have popularized depictions of ghosts as a new genre within Japanese painting. Ryohei had seen photographs of the sliding doors Okyo was commissioned to paint for the subtemple of Enman'in at Miidera in Otsu, but until now he had never given serious credence to a possible link between Okyo and Sharaku. It was only in 1957 that it was first suggested the two were one and the same. Okyo had been an expert draftsman and staunch proponent of Western realism, so in that sense his attitude toward art had certain points in common with Sharaku. What's more, Okyo had no “alibi,” so to speak, for the ten-month period from 1794 to 1795 when Sharaku was active. According to the historical evidence, Okyo experienced a bout of lameness and put down his brush during that time, but it was not clear to Ryohei why being unable to walk should prevent someone from painting.

At any rate, the theory that Okyo was Sharaku had already fallen out of fashion by the time Ryohei began to study ukiyo-e. There was no evidence that Okyo had ever been in Edo, and no connection between him and the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo had ever been adequately proven. It was only natural, therefore, that the Okyo hypothesis was written off as merely an intriguing theory. That was why Ryohei had never actually sat down and compared the two artists' work.

“I can't imagine their work
does
look at all similar,” he explained to Saeko. “But for that matter, neither does Shoei's and Sharaku's. Anyway, it's hard to compare paintings to woodblock prints… But come to think of it, I
have
seen prints attributed to Okyo.”

“Attributed? What do you mean?”

“You know, prints said to have been drawn by him. I'm not entire convinced myself, but I suppose if they're labeled ‘attributed to Okyo' even now, they must be sufficiently characteristic of his style.”

“What kind of prints?”

“Well, not actor portraits… anyway the brush strokes looked nothing like Sharaku's.”

Ryohei was not being entirely straightforward with Saeko. Though he had forgotten the title of the work in question, what he had seen was a series of twelve oversized erotic prints. True to Okyo's adherence to realism, the private parts of the figures in the images had been depicted in almost nauseating detail. But Ryohei had no intention of mentioning all this to Saeko. At any rate, it was true that the style had not looked anything like Sharaku's.

“And didn't he make any other prints?”

“I doubt it. And even in this one case, you have to take ‘attributed to' with a grain of salt. There's no actual evidence that Okyo ever tried his hand at making woodblock prints.”

“So you mean we can rule out the Okyo hypothesis?”

“Most probably.”

Saeko leafed through the folder Ryohei had given her, pulled out several pages and spread them out on the table. They contained a list of all the theories concerning Sharaku's identity proposed since the end of World War Two. The list was in chronological order according to the year they were proposed. On the left were the artists alleged to have been Sharaku, on the right the proponents:

1957

Maruyama Okyo

Taguchi Ryuzaburo

1962

Katsushika Hokusai

Mogami Saburo
et al
.

1962

Tani Buncho

Ikegami Kosanjin

1966

Apprentice of Iizuka Toyo

Nakamura Masayoshi

1967

Torii Kiyomasa

Kimikawa Yasushi

1967

Utagawa Toyokuni

Ishizawa Eitaro

1967

“Sharaku Workshop”

Segi Shin'ichi

1968

Sakai Hoitsu

Mukai Nobuo

1969

Eishosai Choki

Fukutomi Taro

1969

Tsutaya Juzaburo

Enomoto Yusai

1969

Negishi Ubasoku

Nakamura Masayoshi

1969

Tani Sogai

Sakai Tokichi

1981

Santo Kyoden

Tani Minezo

Of course, there was also the theory that Sharaku, as stated in
Ukiyo-e Ruiko
,
had been the Noh actor Saito Jurobei from Awa province. But since this was the prevailing view up until the war it was not included in the list. Until the late 1930s no scholar had ever questioned
Ukiyo-e Ruiko
's veracity, and to this day there is still a tombstone with Sharaku's name on it at Hongyo Temple in Tokushima Prefecture (formerly Awa province). However, later research revealed there was not a shred of evidence for the Saito Jurobei Hypothesis. The tombstone, it turned out, as well as the temple's death registry—which during the rediscovery of Sharaku's work in the 1910s had been accepted more or less at face value as the sole basis for the theory—dated to long after Sharaku's death. Thus this long-held belief crumbled and many alternate theories rose up to take its place.

Also, not included in the list were many minor theories proposed in works of popular fiction and the like that amounted to little more than wild speculation. If one were to include those as well, the list would run to well over thirty names.

Such was the long line-up of suspects that had been assembled to track down the culprit known as Sharaku. Not one had a firm alibi for the ten-month period from 1794 to 1795. In the course of his research, Ryohei had come to realize that even though it was just one hundred and ninety years ago—not much in the overall scheme of things—the world of Sharaku's time was very far removed from the present day.

“Say, doesn't Professor Nishijima have his own theory?” asked Saeko, looking up from the papers spread out in front of her.

“The professor believes Sharaku was Sharaku.”

“What's
that
supposed to mean?” asked Saeko, astonished.

“He thinks Sharaku was a superb artist but he's not interested in finding out who he was. It doesn't matter to him. It's enough simply that his works exist for us to see. Sharaku was just Sharaku; we don't need to look any further… That's
his
philosophy, anyway.”

“I see… That's one way of looking at it, I guess. So he thinks all these other theories are a lot of nonsense, is that it?”

Though it pained him to hear Saeko say it, Ryohei did not deny there was something appealingly straightforward about Nishijima's contention that “Sharaku was Sharaku.” Yet given how complex the problem had become, it was perhaps inevitable that the professor's view should be interpreted—as the members of the Ukiyo-e Connoisseurship Society might put it—as simply a cop-out. It was certainly true that Nishijima was in the odd position of being the foremost authority on Sharaku despite not having his own theory about Sharaku's identity.

“So what's the current prevailing theory?” asked Saeko.

“Well, it's hard to say exactly. Each one is convincing in its own way. The problem is the absence of any definitive proof. It's getting to be like the controversy over the location of the ancient Japanese kingdom of Yamatai; everyone's having fun playing detective.”

“But there's something I don't get. There can only be one Sharaku, so almost everyone is wrong. Can't you just eliminate those?”

“The problem is, it's too far in the past. Sure, there are a few theories I'd like to rule out on the face of it. But then I'd be asked to produce evidence to the contrary. You can't rule something out simply based on gut instinct.”

“I see… But I still don't get it.”

“Get what?”

“Why did you come up here in the first place? Because there's a possibility that Shoei was Sharaku, right? If that turns out to be the case, then
everyone
was wrong. You say you can't rule out anything based on gut instinct, but isn't that what you'll be doing if you go ahead and publish your theory? ‘Those other theories are all persuasive and I can't rule them out, but in my humble opinion Sharaku was Chikamatsu Shoei'… Is that what you intend to write?”

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