This tremendous image of a magician floating on a magical cloud-dragon is the neighbour of the image of the Ghost of Seigen – the previous entry- from the stunning supernatural Sugoroku board we are showing at the Toshidama Gallery… the swirling clouds of the dragon in fact support the struggling figures of Sakura and Seigen on the complete print.
The subject is a little known magician; Unryu-kuro. In this context the first name in fact simply means ‘Cloud-dragon‘… the second part of the name refers to the summoner, here seen riding in heroically clutching a sacred sword wrapped in richly embroidered cloth. There are two other prints that feature this character that I am aware of; the earliest that I can find occurs in one of the best Edo print series by the artist Kunisada; A Contest of Magic Scenes by Toyokuni, from 1863/1864.
He reappears in one of Kunichika’s best series, Magic in the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac from 1877. In that print, Kunichika pictures the actor Bando Hikosaburo V as Unryu Kuro closely following the Kunisada print of the same subject.
Unryu Kuro is also the main character in the novel Unryu Kuro Chutoden by the well known Edo comic novelist Rakutei Saiba. The book appeared in two volumes in 1858 and two pages from the original ehon are shown below:
There is no record of a kabuki performance of the book or indeed the character and hence putting the actor in the guise of the magician is purely fanciful.