Konoshita kage hazama gassen ("Konoshita and divine intervention: A loophole in battle": 木下蔭狭間合戦) was one of the Ishikawa Goemon mono ("Plays about Ishikawa Goemon"), the legendary fugitive outlaw. The historical Goemon was a masterless samurai (rônin: 浪人) during the reign of the shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. At age sixteen he murdered three men while attempting to steal from his master. After his escape, he lived as a bandit for the next 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. The theatrical adaptations of this tale often transformed Goemon into a hero — fearless, elusive, and endowed with magical powers. The first staging of Goemon’s exploits occurred in the 1680s.
In this design, Rikan plays Goemon's boyhood comrade-in-crime, Hiyoshimaru, now called Konoshita Tôkichi Hisayoshi (a dramaturgical alias for Hideyoshi), who is a general for Oda Harunaga. Konoshita is a skilled strategist who entraps the enemy forces of the Saitô clan and slays its leader, Saitô Tatsuoki. Later, as is apparently shown in Hokuei’s print, Konoshita serves as commander of the guard at the mansion of the Ashikaga shogun Yoshiteru in Shiga. It is there that Konoshita confronts Goemon, who has been given the theatrical persona of a chivalrous bandit attempting to restore his family’s fortunes. He is in disguise as an imperial messenger named Kureha Chûnagon searching for an heirloom seal while also pursuing the shogun's concubine, Hatuyô. After Konishita prevents him from stealing the shôgun's seal (the Mishôin), an attack by shôgunal guards forces Goemon to use all his fighting skills to stop them, and magical powers to fly away. The staging for this was called chûzuri ("middle riding") in Osaka theatrical parlance (chûnori in Edo), which involved a harness and wire support to spirit the actor off the stage.
The printing of this design is exceptional— one must marvel at the intricacy of the patterns and gradation of the colors on the ceremonial kamishimo (lit., "upper-lower": 裃), comprising the kataginu (stiff-shouldered robe: 肩衣) and hakama (long skirt-like trousers: 袴). The sumi (carbon black pigment: 墨) used for the poem has a lustre that tricks the eye — as if Rikan has just brushed the last moist stroke of his signature. Isolated against a yellow ground, Rikan's figure and dress form a vivid design whose motifs are built upon strong verticals and opposing diagonals.
Rikan composed the poem, which reads Saru noboru / tayori no tsuta mo / momiji kana ("The monkey climbs the trusted ivy / its leaves turned red / in autumn").
References: WAS-IV: no. 538; IKB-I, no. 2-441; KNP-VI, p. 301; NKE, p. 352