Warring Spirits, Five Hundred Arhats: Scrolls 31 and 32

In the right scroll, a three-faced, multiple-armed Ashura, deity of wrath, holds red and white orbs representing sun and moon. A celebrated eighth-century sculpture of this angry god is held at Kofukuji temple in Nara, which portrays him as a sensitive and melancholy youth. Kazunobu’s Ashura could not be more different with his brazen, bellicose countenance.

A slasher film-worthy scene unfolds in the foreground of the left scroll. The stylized action and graphic violence recall the woodblock prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), a contemporary of Kazunobu. From above, the rakan look down upon this spectacle of clownish force. It appears they have already washed their hands of these hopeless beings.

Kano Kazunobu (1816–63)
Japan, Edo Period, ca. 1854–63
Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
Collection, Zōjōji, Tokyo