Ehon Taikôki (Illustrated chronicles of the regent: 絵本太功記) was originally written for Bunraku (puppet theater) by Chikamatsu Yanagi, Chikamatsu Kosuiken and Chikamatsu Senyoken. The play, which premiered in 7/1799 at the Wakadayû-za, Osaka, was based on parts of an epic, multi-volume yomihon (sparsely illustrated books or novels: 讀本 or 読本) by the Osaka painter and illustrator Okada Gyokuzan I (岡田玉山 1737–1812). The series was also titled Ehon Taikôki and was published over the years 1797-1802. The puppet version was first adapted for kabuki by Nagawa Tokusuke I (奈河篤助 1764-1842, later called Kamesuke II, 亀助) which he entitled Ehô Taikôki in 11/1800 at the Kado in Osaka, and again in 7/1802 at the Kitagawa no Shibai, Kyoto. The title Ehô Taikôki was still used in Osaka up to the beginning of the 1820s.
Takechi Mitsuhide (武智光秀), the theatrical name for Akechi Mitsuhide (明智光秀, 1528-1582), was a warlord defeated by Mashiba Hisayoshi (the historical Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 豊臣秀吉, 1537- 1598, and the "regent" of the theatrical drama). Toyotomi, born of an undistinguished lineage as the son of a peasant foot-soldier named Yaemon, became a renowned warrior-general and politician. He is considered Japan's second great unifier in a series of three warlords — Oda Nobunaga (織田信長 1534-82), Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu (the first shogun in the Tokugawa lineage, 徳川家康 1543-1616) — who gradually unified Japan after nearly 140 years of civil war (c. 1467 - c. 1603; called the "Age of civil war," Sengoku jidai: 戦国時代).
Note: The Ikeda Bunko Collection (池田文庫所蔵) in Osaka, which has an impression of this design (see IKBYS-IV ref. below), suggests the play might be Eawase Taikôki (Chronicle of honor [Hideyoshi] compared in pictures: 絵合太功記), one of many related so-called Taikôki mono (Plays about the Taikô: 太功記物). During the Edo period there were upwards of thirty puppet dramas on this theme. Add to that the kabuki variants and you have some idea of the widespread and persistent popularity of the tales.
The series title, Chûkô juni gatsu no uchi (Twelve months of loyalty and filial piety: 忠孝十二月之内), is typical for the period immediately following the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô reforms: 天保改革). These edicts, in 7/1842, banned (among other things) the publication of actor prints, virtually halting their production in Kamigata for four and a half years. A gradual weakening of enforcement ensued around the start of 1847, despite reiterations by the government in 1844 and 1845 of its intention to continue the reforms. Thus, by 1/1847, relatively normal print production had resumed, although printmakers played their cards close to their vests for nearly a decade thereafter. One sign of this caution was the rather transparent use of didactic or moralizing titles to endow a print with a loftier purpose — a made-to-order ruse to apply a veneer of neo-Confucian principles on a popular (i.e., low-brow) art form. Another bit of camouflage was the omission of actor names (the cartouche at the upper left carries only the role name), although consumers of actor prints hardly needed the inscribed names, as the physiognomies were easily identifiable, and they would have also been intimately familiar with current stage productions. No one, including government censors, was fooled into thinking that such images were anything but yakusha-e (actor prints: 役者絵). Still, the gesture helped satisfy the letter of the law.
This portrayal of Ichikawa Ebizô V (市川海老蔵) as Takechi Mitsuhide (武智みつ秀) is unusual for the exceedingly tight "overbite" compression of Ebizô's lips, a gesture not-often found among the variations of standard actor's mie (climactic pose or display: 見得) as depicted in ukiyo-e prints. Here, it helps to enhance the fierceness and determination of the pose, as would befit a military figure of historical significance.
Note the Toshidama (lit., "New Year’s jewel": 年玉) horizontal cartouche containing the actor and role names, thereby associating Hirosada with the Utagawa lineage of printmakers who used the form as a seal or crest. Hirosada is believed to have apprenticed with the Osaka artist Utagawa Kunimasu (歌川國升) and to have studied alongside Kunimasu in Edo in the early 1830s under Utagawa Kunisada I (歌川國貞).
This design was produced around a year after the post-reform resumption of printmaking in Osaka. The standard format in the region was now the smaller chûban ("medium or half-block": 中判), leaving behind, for the most part, the more exalted ôban ("large print: 大判), which had exemplified yakusha-e in Kamigata during the period 1812-1842. As for Hirosada's portrait of Ichikawa Ebizô V, no recorded performance has been found, so the design is considered a mitate-e (analogue print: 見立絵), meaning an imaginary actor portrait for a performance that probably did not take place.
This early impression is especially well printed and preserved, with brilliant color. Indeed, the design warranted the inclusion of the names of both the carver (hori Tei, ホリ定) and the printer (suri Jin or Jinkichi, スリ甚), a convention observed in a decidedly small minority of ukiyo-e prints, whether from Osaka or Edo.
For more about the artist, see Hirosada Biography.
- IKBYS-IV, no. 37 (inv. H192).
- WAS-6, no. 024 (inv.. 016-0990 and 016-0997).
- NKE, p. 89, 429, and 636.