Keisei yanagi zakura (premiered in 1793) was the first play in a series of "Yanagizawa dispute plays" (Yanagizawa sôdô
mono) to dramatize events about Yanagizawa Yoshiyasu (1658-1714), an exceptionally influential advisor to the fifth shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
(1646-1709). After a successful beginning in governance, Tsunayoshi began to rely on Yanagizawa, a samurai who became Tsunayoshi's most powerful minister
for two decades and whom he made a daimyô of Sanuki and Kôfu in 1701. When the shogun's lax rule resulted in a devalued currency and
increased taxes, Yanagizawa allowed his personal ambition to sway his judgment, failing to intervene. Tsunayoshi became more erratic and issued
shôrui awaremi no rei ("edicts of compassion for living beings"), most notoriously extending protection to dogs and earning him
the nickname Inu-kubô ("Dog Shogun"). The end came when the shogun's wife, Mi-Daidokoro, assassinated him and then committed
suicide. Yanagizawa was blamed for many of Tsunayoshi's transgressions.
Ashiyuki's composition is especially interesting for its asymmetrical placement of the protagonists — the prelude to conflict is filled with
tension as swords are drawn and the figures crowd toward the right. We are presented here with a fine example of tachimawari ("standing and
going around"), kabuki's term for choreographed fight scenes.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 281; KNP-6, p. 213; IKB-I, no. 2-412; NKE, p. 700