Hana no ani tsubomi no yatsufusa (Eight buds of the plum blossom: 花魁莟八総) was written by Nishikawa Ippo in 1836. It is the second earliest kabuki production among the Satomi hakkenden mono (Plays about biographies of eight dogs of Satomi: 里見八犬傳物); the first was an anonymous dramatization in Osaka called Kinkazan yuki no akebono in 1834. (The first Edo kabuki production was Hakkenden uwasa no takadono, written by Takarada Jusuke and Mimasuya Shirô and staged in 4/1836 at the Morita-za.) Satomi hakkenden mono were derived from episodes in Kyokutei (Takizawa) Bakin's (1767-1848) classic 106-volume epic yomihon (lit., "books for reading", a fiction genre: 讀本 or 読本) Nansô Satomi hakkenden (Biographies of eight dogs of Nansô Satomi: 南總里見八犬傳) serialized in 1814-1842. The sekai ("world": 世界) is set in the mid fifteenth century.
The saga celebrates nine generations of a fictional clan, the Satomi in Nansô (Awa province), especially the exploits of eight samurai, each embodying a particular Confucian virtue (in order of their appearance in the drama): kô (孝) - filial piety or devotion; gi (義) - duty and obligation; chû (忠) - loyalty; shin (信) - faith; tei (悌) - brotherhood; jin (仁) - sympathy and benevolence; chi (知) - wisdom; and rei (礼) - courtesy). Their names are distinctive, each including the character for inu or "dog" (犬), derived from their mother Fusehime (princess Fuse), who had given birth to the children of a demonic dog (Yatsufusa), rewarded with her hand in marriage for having brought her father (Yoshizane Satomi) the head of one of his enemies. The brothers are scattered in different parts of Awa province, but are recognizable by their names, peony birthmarks (the mon or crest of the Satomi clan), and beads, each containing a kanji character for the respective eight virtues cited earlier. The brothers, corresponding in order of the virtues shown above, are: Inuzuka Shino Moritaka (犬塚 信乃 戍孝); Inukawa Sôsuke Yoshitô (犬川 荘助 義任); Inuyama Dôsetsu Tadatomo (犬山 道節 忠與); Inukai Genpachi Nobumichi (犬飼 現八 信道); Inuta Kobungo Yasuyori (犬田 小文吾 悌順); Inue Shimbei Masashi (犬江 親兵衛 仁); Inuzaka Keno Tanetomo (犬阪 毛野 胤智); and Inumura Daikaku Masanori (犬村 大角 礼儀).
Keisei Tamazusa (けいせい玉梓) was the concubine of Yamashita Sadakane, an enemy of Yoshizane Satomi. After Sadakane is killed, Tamazusa is captured and beheaded, although not before she casts a spell, bringing a curse down upon the Satomi clan, whose descendants must roam the earth like mongrel dogs. Here, in the far left sheet, Tamazusa is shown as a spirit, signified by her kitsunebi (spirit fire: 狐火) hovering in the black sky to her left. Note her elaborately fashioned robe, patterned with chidori (plovers or sanderlings: 千鳥) flying above Hokusai-style waves. Legend has it that such plovers were born from the froth of cresting waves; thus, they are often depicted, as here, in flight above swirling, breaking waves.
It is very difficult to find this tetraptych complete, as here.
References: IKBYS-II, no. 374; KNP-6, p. 323; KUM, p. 255; IKB-I, no. 2-444 and 2-445, p. 99; NKE, p. 556; Chiba City Museum of Art, Hakkenden no sekai (The World of the Biography of the Eight Dogs), exhibition of a private collection, 2008, no. 192