The plot of the play Keisei Soga haru no fujigane (景清曽我賑不尽) is unknown to us, but it is certainly one of the many Soga monogatari (Stories about the Soga: 曾我物語) about the Soga brothers hell-bent on avenging their father's murder. These jidaimono (lit., "period piece" or historical drama: 時代物) were produced annually for kabuki each New Year. In the present production Kataoka Gado II also played the role of Soga no Jurô, while Ichikawa Ebizô V performed as Soga no Gorô. Conflated with the Soga tale in this play is the saga of Akushichibyoe Kagekiyo (the historical Taira Kagekiyo), with Ichikawa Ebizô V taking on that role as well.
Dramatizations involving Kagekiyo were based on the historical Heike general Taira no Kagekiyo (平景清), nicknamed "Akushichibyoe" (bad man of the seventh degree: 悪七兵ヘ景清) for killing his uncle (whom he mistook for his enemy, Minamoto no Yoritomo, 1147–99). Kagekiyo's original name was Fujiwara no Kagekiyo (藤原景清), but he was adopted by the Taira and served them loyally for the remainder of his days. He was a formidable warrior, but was captured at the pivotal naval battle at Dan-no-ura (Dan-no-ura no tatakai: 壇ノ浦の戦い) in 1185 when the Genji clan, led by Yoritomo, defeated the Heike forces. Exiled to a cave on Hyûga Island, Kagekiyo died of starvation in 1196.
There were many adaptations of the Kagekio saga for both kabuki and bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽), a genre called Kagekiyo mono (Plays about Kagekiyo: 景清物). Along with Minamoto no Yoshitsune and the Soga brothers, Kagekiyo forms one of a triumvirate of heroes celebrated in history and legend from the same historical period that sparked the imaginations of playwrights and thrilled audiences.
This is a finely printed and well-preserved deluxe edition of what appears to be an otherwise unrecorded design. In addition to his nigao ("likeness": 似顔), Ebizô's spectacular robes are a focal point of the composition, sweeping out from the center in curving diagonals, in parallel with his katana (sword: 刀) and naginata (lance or halberd: 長刀 or 薙刀). The black background sets off the orange colorant most dramatically. For another image issued for this play, see HSD50.
References: NKE, p. 254