Ashinuki was probably a pupil of Kyôgadô Ashikuni (狂画堂芦國 act. c. 1801-20) and seems to have been active for only a few years, circa 1816-18. His biography is otherwise unknown.
Arashi Kichisaburô II (嵐吉三郞, 1769-1821, later Kitsusaburô I, 嵐橘三郎 in his final year; also known as ô-Rikan, the Great Rikan, 大璃寛) was an outstanding performer blessed with a commanding stage presence and a powerful voice. He achieved great success acting exclusively in the Kamigata theaters (i.e., never appearing in Edo). His well-documented rivalry with the superstar Nakamura Utaemon III was arguably the most notorious in kabuki history. When they finally reconciled after many years and agreed to appear together on stage, it was not to be, as Kichsaburô died unexpectedly in the ninth lunar month of 1821 before the much-anticipated staging could take place.
The role of Washio Saburô can be found in the play Suma no miyako Genpei tsutsuji (Azaleas of the Minamoto and Taira clans in the capital at Suma: 須磨都源平躑躅), which premiered as a ningyô jôruri (puppet play: 淨瑠璃) at the Takemoto Theater, Osaka in 1730. Kabuki staged its first version in 1763. The dramatization was based on the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike clan: 平家物語) and Genpei seisuiki (Story of the rise and fall of the Heike and Genji during the Genpei wars: 源平盛衰記) — chronicles about the pivotal struggle (1156-1185) between the Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) clans ending at the battle of Dannoura in western Honshû. The play serves as a prelude to the most famous individual confrontation in samurai legend — the slaying at Ichinotani of the fifteen-year-old Atsumori, son of a Taira general, by the Minamoto general Kumagai no Jirô Naozane ( 熊谷次郎直実 1141-1208), serving Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-89). In the play, Kumagai owes a debt of gratitude to Atsumori's mother, for she had saved Kumagai and his wife from execution 17 years earlier. Having no other way to honor his debt, Kumagai substitutes and sacrifices his own son for Atsumori. This shocking turn of events only delays the inevitable, however, and finally Kumagai must slay Atsumori. Distraught at the loss of his son and his failure to save Atsumori, Kumagai renounces his allegiance to the Minamoto and takes the vows of a Buddhist monk.
This is the first time we have been able to offer a design by Ashinuki (芦貫), as any work by the artist is rarely encountered. We have seen the present design in only two other impressions.
In this staging at the Kita Horie shrine theater in Osaka, besides the role of Washio Saburô (鷲尾三郎), Kichisaburô II also performed as Kumagai no Jirô, one of the two primary characters in the play (see HKS60). In Ashinuki's portrayal, Kichisaburô strikes one of kabuki's fixed "forms" (kata: 型), in this instance the pose of a valiant warrior with his left leg up on the edge of a veranda and his right leg extended upon the ground. He places a tight grip on the sword scabbard with both hands and stares intently in another kata called a mie (glare or display: 見得).
For a memorial print of this actor, see HKS58. For a later print by Hokuei portraying this role, see HKE74.
References: KNP-6, p. 42; KNZ, no. 50 (for another scene by the artist Kunihiro with Kichisaburô II as Washio)