by Christopher Agostino
I ran into a couple of old friends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday in the exhibit Storytelling in Japanese Art. In an “emaki” (handscroll) illustrating the story of “The Drunken Demon” I found the hero samurai Raiko (who I know from a folktale I tell of his battle with the Goblin Spider) and Abe no Seimei (my favorite Onmyoji, or yin/yang magician)—both in the same story like a Spiderman/Dr. Strange crossover in an issue of Marvel Team-Up.
Emaki are like the original comic books or animated movies, telling a story through text and sequential illustrations. A scroll might be 30′ long, and to read it you would look at about two feet at a time, unrolling it with your left hand while simultaneously rolling it up again with your right. “The Drunken Demon” version in the exhibit was told over three scrolls from the Edo period by Kaiho Yuchiku (1654-1728). A boyish demon becomes terrible when drunk, stealing all the beautiful women. When he captures the daughter of an aristocrat, Abe no Seimei uses his powers to find where the girl is held, and the Emperor orders Raiko and his warrior companions to rescue the girl—which they do with the help of three gods disguised as men, a tree that grows across a chasm to become a bridge, some poisoned saki and a golden helmet. In the climactic illustrations, after a wild feast featuring human sashimi, the sleeping demon is depicted as filling an entire room (described in the text as 10′ tall, but illustrated as if 30′ tall) before Raiko cuts his head off, blood spraying out in a fine mist just like in the modern samurai movies like “The Warrior’s Way” (a fun one I watched last night). Continue reading