The actors, roles, and plays are: (R) Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Hanjimono Kihei in Sugata kurabe deiri no minato; (2R) Kataoka Gadô II as Kizu in Sao no uta kizugawa hakkei;(3R) Kataoka Ichizô I as Tsurufune Sabu in Natsu matsuri Naniwa kagami; (4R) Arashi Rikaku II as Gokumon Shôbei in Sugata kurabe deiri no minato; and (5R) Jitsukawa Enzaburô I as Goshaku Somegorô in Ume no haru gojûsantsugi.
The title of this complete set of five prints plays upon the popularized exploits of chivalrous commoners (otokodate) and, in particular, the so-called Gonin otoko mono ("Five men plays"). One such drama was the play Otokodate itsutsu karigane (Karigane's five brave and chivalrous men: 男作五雁金) by Takeda Izumo I, which premiered in 9/1742 and quickly became one of the most popular Karigane gonin otoko mono (Karigane's five-men plays: 雁金五人男物) about the so-called otokodate (chivalrous commoners, literally "standing men": 男伊達 or 男作) in both the puppet and kabuki theaters. However, Hirosada has linked the five otokodate to five different plays, documenting the broad appeal of the theme on the kabuki stage.
The real-life Karigane gonin were members of a loosely knit gang of 11 or more outlaws led by Karigane Bunshichi. Guilty of beatings, theft, and murder spanning several years, they were executed on 8/26/1702. Takeda's drama helped to mythologize these criminals and transform them from street thugs into heroes.In the popular imagination, street thugs who were defiant of the shogunal social order were transformed into heroic Robin Hood-style outlaws.
The title Chûkô gonin otoko ("Five loyal and filial men") gives a nod to the moralizing tales deemed helpful in avoiding prosecution as enforcement of the Tenpô Reforms (Tenpô kaikaku) began to wane. These were edicts that in 7/1842 banned actor prints
in Osaka, virtually halting print production in Kamigata for four and a half years.
Hirosada's composition is a form of mitate (analogue or comparison), in effect, portrayals of imaginary casts for which no recorded kabuki programs can be identified with the actors in their particular roles and plays. Possibly these mitate represent commissions from fans of the actors wishing to see them presented in celebrated roles.
References: IBKYS-IV, no. 4; WAS III-6, nos. 3 to 6