Igagoe mono were a popular series of plays for both the puppet and kabuki theaters, dramatizing one of Japan's three celebrated tales of revenge
(the other two theatrical groupings being the Chûshingura mono and Soga mono). The inspiration for the Igagoe mono lay in an
actual vendetta that took place in 1634 at Iga Ueno, when Watanabe Kazuma and his brother-in-law, Araki Mataemon (a skilled swordsman), sought
vengence against Kawai Matagorô, the murderer of Kazuma's father, Watanabe Yukie.
Playwrights diverged from the real events, amending names, locations, and plots to create various complex vendetta tales. In the present version Karaki
Masaemon is a martial arts master who teaches his craft under the auspices of the lord of Koriyama Castle, Konda Naiki. Masaemon is recruited to leave
Naiki to join in a revenge against Matagorô, who has murdered his wife's father, Wada Yukie. Masaemon fears that winning a scheduled fencing
(kendô) match against Matagorô's uncle, as expected, will further demonstrate his prowess and make his lord reluctant to allow him
to leave, so he loses on purpose, which brings taunts from Naiki. When his lord stabs at him with a long spear (naginata), Masaemon — as
shown in Ashiyuki's design — deftly grabs the lance to the surprise of Naiki, who then relents and permits Masaemon to join in the vendetta.
Occasionally one encounters designs with some of the fashionable accoutrements of the period. Here, on the left sheet, the actor Utaemon wears an inro ("seal basket"),
a small container of several interlocking sections. It was worn exclusively by men and suspended from the sash (obi) by means of a cord looped over the sash and secured by a decorative — usually carved — toggle (netsuke). It was often used to hold signature seals or medicines, or in examples called sagemono ("hanging things"),
smoking accessories. Utaemon's lower robe is patterned with cross-hatched and jagged-lozenge motifs made by the kasuri ("splashed pattern") or ikat tie-dying and weaving technique. His upper robe features a pattern of koma (pieces used in shôgi, a game roughly resembling chess).
The steady gaze and self-assured posture of Masaemon is well rendered in Ashiyuki's composition, as he perfectly positions his hand to foil a deadly
thrust. Note the stocky figure-drawing style, a hallmark of actor portraiture in the 1810s. Kamigata-e from this early period are difficult to
find; this design also represents one of the earlier efforts of the publisher Tenki.
References: IBKYS-I, no. 198; IKB-I, no. 1-379; WAS I-4, no. 90; KNP-6, p. 4; NKE, pp. 211-214