The role of Fuwa Banzaemon (不破伴左衛門), who was frequently featured in kabuki plays, was based on an actual sixteenth-century samurai. He was purportedly a rival in love with another real-life samurai named Nagoya Sansaburô (名古屋山三郎), who in Hirosada's woodblock diptych is called Nagoya Sanzaemon (名古屋山左衛門). Sansaburô's father was Nagoya Takahisa, governor of Inaba province, and his mother Yôun'in, a niece of Oda Nobunaga (1534-82; warlord who initiated the unification of Japan under the Shogunate in the late sixteenth century). Supposedly, Sansaburô was a lover of Izumo no Okuni (出雲の阿国), the founder of Kabuki, but there is no evidence that they actually knew one another. Nevertheless, he was portrayed as her departed lover in plays, and Okuni used him, or rather his "ghost," as a regular character in skits performed by her theatrical troupe. Sansaburô was killed in a brawl in 1603, the year usually given for the official birth of Okuni's kabuki, which at first offered performances of dance and song rather than plot-driven dramas.
The title of the scene is identified by the inscription in the top right cartouche: Inazuma sôshi, maki no ni (Act 2 of Inazuma sôshi: 稲妻双紙 巻ノ弐). The play Satomoyô kabuki no inazuma (花街模様劇稲妻) appears to be one of various Fuwa Nagoya mono (Plays about Fuwa and Nagoya: 不和破名古屋) for the puppet and kabuki theaters. The best known adaptation for kabuki, Ukiyozuka Hiyoku no Inazuma (A floating world design: Comparison of matching lightning bolts: 浮世柄比翼稲妻), written in 1823 by Tsuruya Nanboku IV for Ichikawa Danjûrô VII in Edo, features a conspiracy by Fuwa to usurp control of the Sasaki clan domain by supporting an illegitimate son of the clan's recently deceased lord. In this retelling, Nagoya Sanzaemon was a loyal Sakai retainer who is murdered by Fuwa.
This impression is finely printed with high-quality pigments, nunomezuri (fabric printing: 布目摺) on Daigorô's white robe, and shômenzuri (lit., "front rubbing" or burnishing: 正面摺) of an intricate pattern on Utaemon's black outer robe.
Other impressions of this design are in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from the William Sturgis Bigelow (b. 1850–d. 1926) collection (later edition: 11.35599a-b), Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum at Waseda University (see WAS reference below), and Ikeda Bunko Library (see IKDYS-IV reference below). The MFAB impression has the seal of the publisher Meikôdô (名楽堂)*, the Waseda print has the mark of Matsuki (松喜), and the Ikeda Bunko impression has no publisher's seal. These different productions are indicative of the mid-nineteenth century publishing industry in Kamigata. Typically, the first pubisher (as with our example) produced the better-quality, often deluxe edition (privately issued first editions might also omit publisher seals). Subsequently, secondary or tertiary publishers issued editions, often non-deluxe.
* Note: Meikôdô is sometimes misread as Meirakudô.
References: WAS-4, no. 215; IKDYS-IV no. 311; NKE, p. 106