Synopsis by Jonathan Crow
The ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artist Sharaku is an enigmatic puzzle in the world of Japanese art. Working at an age when such masters of the trade as Hokusai and Utamaro were at their zenith, Sharaku suddenly emerged out of obscurity and produced roughly 140 strikingly brilliant portraits of Kabuki performers, only to disappear just as suddenly. To date, no one knows about his true identity or about his post-ukiyo-e career. Veteran director Masahiro Shinoda tries to fill in the blanks with this lavish period production. Set in the 1790s, the film centers on Tombo (Hiroyuki Sanada), a lowly Kabuki player who gets dumped from his troupe after breaking his foot. He joins a ragged traveling outfit run by former courtesan Okan (played by Shinoda's wife, Shima Iwashita). While not on-stage, he takes up drawing, for which he realizes he has considerable ability. His talents are noticed by Tsutaya Juzaburo (Frankie Sakai), a ukiyo-e publisher who is desperate for a replacement after his star artist Utamaro (Shiro Sano) defected to his rival's stable. Sharaku's work immediately creates a stir in Edo, particularly with the rigidly moralistic Prime Minister Matsudaira Sadanobu (Hachijusuke Bando). After falling for a beautiful teenaged geisha (Riona Hazuki), the latest sexual plaything of the rich and lecherous Utamaro, Tombo feels more and more constrained by his anonymous fame and the increasing tyrannical demands of Juzaburo. Soon, freedom and love seem more appealing than riches or art.
artist, drawing [art], fame, kabuki, theater-troupe