Suma no miyako Genpei Tsutsuji (Azaleas of the Minamoto and Taira clans in the capital at Suma) premiered as a ningyô jôruri (puppet play) at the Takemoto Theater, Osaka in 1730; kabuki staged its first version in 1763. The dramatization was based on the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike clan) and Genpei seisuiki (Story of the rise and fall of the Heike and Genji during the Genpei wars) — chronicles about the pivotal struggle (1156-1185) between the Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) clans ending at the battle of Dannoura in western Honshû.
The play serves as a prelude to the most famous individual confrontation in samurai legend — the slaying at Ichinotani of the fifteen-year-old Atsumori, son of a Taira general, by the Minamoto general Kumagai no Naozane, serving Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189). As it happens, Kumagai owes a debt of gratitude to Atsumori's mother, for she had saved Kumagai and his wife from execution 17 years earlier. Having no other way to honor his debt, Kumagai substitutes and sacrifices his own son for Atsumori. This shocking turn of events only delays the inevitable, however, and finally Kumagai must slay Atsumori. Distraught at the loss of his son and his failure to save Atsumori, Kumagai renounces his allegiance to the Minamoto and takes the vows of a Buddhist monk.
In 1832 a production of the play included the Gojôbashi no ba ("Gojô Bridge scene"), newly written for the revival. The episode was, in part, an parody of the celebrated encounter on Kyoto’s Gojô Bridge between the young Minamoto general Yoshitsune (Ushiwakamaru) and the warrior priest Benkei. In the Gojôbashi no ba, Atsumori disguises himself as a woman named Kohagi and takes refuge with the fan-seller Kazusa and his daughter Katsurako. As Atsumori is about to be captured by the Minamoto, Kumagai happens to visit the shop and has Kazusa sacrifice Katsurako to honor his debt by protecting Atsumori. He then presents her head in place of Atsumori’s to deflect his fellow Minamoto from their mission. Later, as Atsumori prays for Katsurako’s soul at the Gojô Bridge, Kumagai confronts him and arranges to meet for battle at Ichinotani.
Washinoo Saburô is depicted within a roundel or mirror — a popular design motif in ukiyo-e printmaking since the late eighteenth century. While mimicking the appearance of the actor backstage as he gazed into a mirror and applied his makeup, most of these portraits depicted actors while in performance, as though "telescoping" or zooming in on the actor's mie (dramatic pose), suggesting some influence from imported Westeren scopic devices.
There are five known designs from the series Ryukô kagami no ooi.
References: WAS-IV: no. 553; IKBYS-III, no. 568; IKB-I, no. 2-443; KNP-VI, p. 30; NKE, p. 622