A red seal on the wood storage box (fig. 1) for this painting identifies its original owner as Ozu Keiso (Hisatari; 1804-1858). Ozu was from a successful family of merchants who operated shops in Edo and in the Kansai area, Kyoto to Osaka. He was a dedicated bibliophile who enjoyed composing poetry, having committed himself to the study of Japanese literature at the age of 14 under the tutelage of Motoori Haruniwa (1762-1801), the son of the eminent scholar of kokugaku (Japanese studies), Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801). Ozu and the Motoori were related: after the death of his elder brother, Motoori Norinaga succeeded to the family line of Ozu. Norinaga himself was born in Matsusaka in Ise province (now Mie Prefecture), where Ozu Keiso kept a summer house. Keiso named his library Nishinoso Bunko after that Ise retreat. The celebrated 20th century filmmaker Ozu Yasujiro was a descendant of the same family.
The connection between Ozu Keiso and Hokusai draws tighter on account of Ozu’s close friendship and literary affiliation with Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848), the distinguished novelist, poet, critic and scholar. Bakin and Hokusai enjoyed a lucrative collaboration, Bakin contributing the text and Hokusai the illustrations, on the serial Shinpen Suiko gaden (Illustrated new edition of Outlaws of the Marsh), 1805-38, until the two had one of several falling outs over artistic differences. Hokusai prevailed; a new author was hired and the series ran to 91 volumes (Hokusai handed the job of illustrations to his pupil Taito II for volumes 62-91). The fifth illustration in volume one of this book shows the same bandit depicted in the painting here: contorted body, the fingers of one hand spread wide, the other gripping the same cylindrical staff. (Accessible online, see Shinpen Suiko gaden, vol. 1, recto page 7, British Museum, 1979,035,0.536, JH. 536, image 5.) Jack Hillier uses this illustration as an example of the “virile and energetic compositions” that make up Shinpen Suiko gaden in The Art of Hokusai in Book Illustration (Sotheby Parke Bernet; University of California Press, 1980), no. 55. Bakin also inscribed works by Hokusai, notably a painting in the British Museum entitled Tametomo on the Demons’ Island of 1812 (BM 1881.12-10,01747, JP 1479, accessible online; see also, Gian Carlo Calza, et al., Hokusai [London and New York: Phaidon Press, 1999], pl. IV.27.).
Hokusai and Bakin collaborated on eighteen books, and though Bakin frequently groused in his letters and diaries that Hokusai tended to re-arrange Bakin’s concepts for the designs “just to be contrary,” he acknowledged that Hokusai was the best at illustrating his scenes. Hokusai, in turn, complained of Bakin’s dictatorial nature, but their artistic relationship obviously bore fruit. Perpetually out of money and lodgings, despite the high salaries paid Hokusai (of which Bakin also complained), the artist even lived with Bakin for a time. It is logical that Ozu Keiso would have been part of that fraternity given their mutual interests.
What is assumed to be the preliminary drawing for the painting of Lu Zhishen here is in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (fig. 2). The pose is effectively identical and there are three birds flying overhead. The red seal on the sketch is too blurred to identify. There is also a Hokusai handscroll of all 108 heroes of Outlaws of the Marsh in the Freer Gallery, dated circa 1829 (Freer Gallery, F1914.142, accessible online).
Outlaws of the Marsh, frequently translated as The Water Margin, is a Chinese epic of the 1300s that details the exploits of 108 bandit heroes who join against the corrupt government of the Song dynasty. Eventually, they are pardoned and make peace with the emperor, who sends them off to quell revolts against the realm; two-thirds of them die in these campaigns. In the painting here, Hokusai illustrates Lu Zhishen (Kaosho Rochishin in Japanese), one of the favorite protagonists of the novel. The story of Lu takes up chapters 3 to 7 of Shuihu zhuan, the title in Chinese. “Water Margin” refers to the margins of Liangshan Marsh, where the bandits came together.
Lu Zhishen stands for strength, justice and loyalty––but he is also a brute with a comic touch, not unlike a kabuki character to which this painting has a parallel in its verve and exaggeration. Lu is a monk who does not know the Buddhist scriptures and settles scores with his iron monk’s staff. The Chinese text calls attention to the “tin tip” of his staff that Hokusai has delineated here. Before he has left his monastery to join the outlaws, Lu gets drunk one night and staggers back to the temple. In his haze, he imagines that the immense guardian figure at the gate is disapproving of him, so he smashes the sculpture’s head. A Hokusai-school ink drawing of this scene is in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (56.121.40, accessible online). In the present painting, Hokusai alludes here to another episode in which he uproots a giant tree in a show of strength against two men plotting to kill another hero of the tale, Lu’s friend Lin Zhong. The gnarled trunk of the tree lies helpless below his tensile body. The catalogue entry of the British Museum exhibition cited above remarks that the small, fleeting sparrows are a parody of Lu’s opposition. Lu survives the campaigns ordered by the Song emperor, yet he dies at the end back at his mountain monastery; the monk who eschewed the teachings dies an enlightened soul. Hokusai, who was obsessed with symbolism and longevity in a fortunately long life, may have sympathized with these words of Lu Zhishen in the play “A Leopard Monk Returns to the Laity of His Own Accord:”
All I want is
To flee from the right and wrong of the red dust,
Perch quietly on a verdant ridge,
Where a little cell suits me well––a low paper window,
Hemmed around with a bamboo fence.
My carefree body fallen into a sound and undisturbed sleep,
Impoverished cassock and begging bowl untainted by rank smells,
A plain life in friendship with mountains and clouds,
After all, how long is a human life?
( Translated by Stephen H. West and Wilt L. Idema, Monks, Bandits, Lovers, and Immortals: Eleven Early Chinese Plays [Hackett Publishing, 2010], p. 345.)
Fig. 1. Katsushika Hokusai. Man Brandishing a Long Staff. ca. 1825. Drawing; ink on paper. 38 x 17 7/8 in. (96.5 x 45.4 cm). Minneapolis Institute of Art, Bequest of Richard P. Gale 74.1.202. Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art
This drawing, in the long, narrow format known as kakemono-e (image in hanging-scroll format), appears to be a preliminary sketch for the present painting of the hero bandit Lu Zhishen.