Elements of this design fall within the guarded approach to Osaka printmaking following the Tenpô Reforms (Tenpô kaikaku: 天保改革), edicts that
in 7/1842 banned actor prints in Osaka, virtually halting print production in Kamigata for five years. A gradual weakening of enforcement ensued despite
reiterations in 1844 and 1845 by the government of its intention to continue the reforms, and by 1847 relatively normal print production had resumed, though
printmakers played their cards close to their vests for nearly a decade afterwards.
One sign of this caution was the rather transparent use of didactic or moralizing titles to endow a print with a loftier purpose. The cartouche at the upper
left reads Chûkô buyûden ("Chronicles of courage, loyalty, and filial piety"), a title Hirosada used on various prints
of this period. Another bit of "camouflage" was the omission of actor names (the cartouche at the upper right carries only the role name), although
patrons of yakusha-e hardly needed the inscribed names, as the physiognomies were easily identifiable, and they would have also been intimately familiar
with current stage productions.
The historical Miyamoto Musashi (c.1584-1645; 宮本 武蔵), whose name meant "Storehouse of military knowledge,"
was born in Mimasaka or Harima, Japan. He became a legendary swordsman and the son of the celebrated fencing master Yoshioka Tarozaemon, a retainer of the Ashikaga shôgun Yoshiteru. Musashi was a bold and reputedly reckless adventurer who nevertheless survived armed combat more than 60 times and died a
natural death on June 13, 1645 in Higo. Katakiuchi nitô no eiyûki was one of the many popular tales of vengeance and retribution, "revenge plays" called katakiuchi mono (敵討物) or adauchi mono (仇打ち物). In
one such incident, Musashi adroitly used a wooden sword — a deadly weapon in the hands of a master — to slay the murderer
of his father. Today, Musashi is widely known as the author of Gorin no sho (The Book of Five Rings: 五輪書), a book on military tactics, strategy, and philosophy. After its first English translation in 1974, the treatise captured the popular imagination and was seriously studied by business executives in the West to understand Japanese management techniques and strategies.
This portrait appears to be complete as a single sheet. In this instance the striking red body makeup signifies a hero of imposing strength and courage.
References: IBKYS-IV, no. 77; WAS III-6, no. 48; IKB-I, no. 1-548