Nagoya Sansaburô (名古屋山三郎) was a real-life samurai who in Hirosada's triptych is called Nagoya Sanza[emon] (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 various 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. Moreover, another real-life samurai, Fuwa Banzaemon (不破伴左衛門), was said to be Sansaburô's rival-in-love (in some versions, they feud over the courtesan Katsuragi (葛城), who is none other than Sansaburô's wife (a dutiful figure who earlier in the play had to sell herself into prostitution), and these two often appear together in theatrical dramas.
Sato moyô kabuki no inazuma (Lightning-bolt pattern — kabuki in the redlight district: 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. Nanboku's play includes a famous sayaate ("scabbard clash" or love-rival: 鞘当) scene in which Nagoya Sanza and Fuwa Banzemon arrive upon the main stage simultaneously after making their entrances along two separate hanamichi (runways: 花道) to engage in a scabbards-clashing confrontation. In modern kabuki, "Sayaate" is a twenty-minute, visually-striking dance derived from Nanboku's play.
This is one of Hirosada's finest triptychs. Here the lightning bolt of the title is painted on the stage backdrop. The principal character, Nagoya Sanza, is placed on the right sheet, while Umezu Kamon, a henchman for Sanza, is shown in the center. Dark, ominous clouds support an atmosphere of impending violence.
The Waseda University impression cited below lacks the use of any metalllics. Interestingly, our impression also has some faux-deluxe (simulated metal) pigments for other embellishments.
For more about the artist, see Hirosada Biography.
References: WAS-6, p. 48, no. 217 (L & C sheets only); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (acc #11.35596a-c)