Chigogafuchi koi no shiranami (The Chigo Deeps and the white waves of love: 児渕恋白浪) combined the legends of the outlaw Goemon with a revenge tale involving the temple page Shiragikumaru (renamed Sutewakamaru in the drama). The conflated saga includes Sutewakamaru vowing to avenge the death of Takechi Mitsuhide who had been slain by Mashiba Hisayoshi (the theatrical namesake for the historical shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi). This links the Sutewakamaru plot with various Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川五右衛門物), the legendary fugitive outlaw during the reign of Hideyoshi. Later in the play, Sutewakamaru is transformed into Goemon.
The first staging of Ishikawa Goemon's exploits occurred in the 1680s. A century later, Kinmon gosan no kiri (The golden gate and paulownia crest: 金門五三桐), written by Namiki Gohei I, premiered in 1788 as a five-act drama (it was renamed Sanmon gosan no kiri for its premiere in Edo in 1800). It recounts the tale of Ishikawa Goemon, a notorious rônin (a "wave man" or "floating man," i.e., masterless samurai: 浪人) during the reign of the shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598). At age sixteen, while attempting to steal from his master, Goemon murdered three men and went underground. He lived as a bandit for two decades until, in 1594, he was captured during a failed attempt to kill Hideyoshi. Goemon met a grisly end by being boiled in oil.
This print was published just a few years after the relaxation of the Tenpô Reforms (Tenpô kaikaku) ― edicts that in 7/1842 banned actor prints in Osaka, virtually halting print production in Kamigata for nearly five years until 1/1847. As is the case with Hirosada's diptych, the omission of the actors' names is indicative of the guarded approach to Osaka printmaking following the reforms. 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, although printmakers played their cards close to their vests for nearly a decade afterwards. Many prints during this period were issued in series that used didactic or moralizing titles intended to endow a print with a loftier purpose. Another bit of camouflage was the omission of actor names, although the accurate physiognomies were easily identifiable by kabuki fans and print buyers, who would have been intimately familiar with the performers and current stage productions. These transparent gestures would not have fooled the censors, but avoiding explicit references to actors apparently satisfied the letter of the law.
Hisayoshi, disguised as a common pilgrim, is searching for Goemon when they meet at the great gate of the Nanzen Temple. The setting is considered one of kabuki's most colorful spectacles, featuring a magnificent vermillion gate elevated by a mechanical lift rising high above the stage. It was a popular subject in ukiyo-e and was especially suitable for vertical diptychs, although a rather uncommon format in Kamigata actor prints (yakusha-e: 役者絵), thereby making this Hirosada one of the few available diptychs designed in this manner.
References: WAS-VI, no. 212; IKBYS-IV, no. 303; Minneapolis Museum of Art (Acc #P.78.1.2a,b)