Natsu matsuri Naniwa kagami (Mirror of the Osaka summer festival: 夏祭浪花鑑) was originally a nine-act sewamono (domestic or everyday drama: 世話物) staged for ningyô jôruri (puppet theater: 人形淨瑠璃) in 1745. Danshichi Kurobei, a fishmonger and otokodate ("upright man" or chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作) was imprisoned for wounding a retainer of Ôshima Sagaemon (an enemy of Danshichi's ally, Tamashima Hyôdayû). Danshichi is paroled on the condition that he foreswear violence, so any breach of this agreement, however minor, will land him back in prison. Immediately after his release, he stops at the home of his friend Tsuribune no Sabu to wash and change clothes before seeing his wife. While there, Danshichi is attacked by the samurai Issun Tokubei who is allied with an enemy of the Tamashima clan. Sabu intercedes to prevent Danshichi's risking a return to prison by seizing a folding screen and holding it up between the two adversaries. Before the fight is resolved, Danshichi's wife, Okaji, arrives and is upset to discover that her husband, even before reaching home to rejoin his family, has fallen prey to violence again. Not long after, in a reversal of alliance, Tokubei befriends Danshichi and they pledge to protect the Tamashima clan.
Hokuei's print depicts the aftermath of the confrontation between Danshichi and his father-in-law, Giheiji, in one of kabuki's most famous episodes, Nagamachi no ura no ba ("Back street scene in Nagamachi"). As their ongoing feud escalates over Danshichi's payment to ransom the courtesan Kotoura, sounds of revelry can be heard from an approaching Kozû Shrine Festival parade in Dôtonbori. During performances of this play, the boisterous music provides an incongruous carnivalesque accompaniment to the action in the gloomy backstreet. Danshichi draws his sword, accidentally cutting Giheiji, who screams, "Murderer!" Overcome with rage, Danshichi, his unknotted hair falling to his shoulders, opens his emblematic robe patterned with white-and-rust colored cross bars, called "checkered Danshichi" (Danshichi-gôshi), to reveal a red loincloth and a tattoo of a remarkable fire-breathing serpent. As he moves in on his prey, Danshichi performs various koroshi no mie (murderer's poses: 殺し見得) in counterpoint to Giheiji's displays of panic and supplication. Finally, after asking for forgiveness, Danshichi ends the old man's life with a thrust of his sword. Danshichi then washes splattered blood and Giheiji's muddy handprints from his body, using water from a nearby well. He escapes by mingling with the large crowd of festival celebrants.
The poem written in metallic pigment against the black night sky is difficult to see in the reproduction above, but it is more visible in the detail on the right (photographed with oblique lighting). The verse is by the actor Rikan II and uses a conventional image of bamboo bending but not breaking as an intentionally ironic metaphor for the explosive Danshichi whose rage cracked his resolve: Wakadake ya / me no omotai / kunimo sezu (The young bamboo / is not burdened / by the heavy rain.).
While Danshichi looks past the left edge of the sheet, the viewer must visualize what a pitiable and frightful sight the dying Giheiji must offer. In stalking Giheiji, Danshichi also confronts his own personal darkness. This is a composition stripped down to its essentials, and it is Hokuei's most dramatic use of an isolated figure. Rarely has violence been portrayed with such penetrating psychological insight in ukiyo-e prints.
This composition is one of the highlights of dramatic single-figure portraiture in the entire Osaka school. It appears in many publications that illustrate Osaka prints and was used notably on the cover for a book by the ukiyo-e scholar Dr. Roger Keyes (see below) featuring images from the Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Formerly in the collection of the actor Raymond Burr (1917-93), who performed in the classic Alfred Hitchcock film "Rear Window" (1954) and played the lead roles in TV's "Perry Mason" (1957-66), for which he won two Emmys (1959 and 1961), and "Ironside" (1967-75), for which he received six Emmy nominations.
References: IKBYS-II: no. 287; IKB-I, no. 3-63; KNP-6, no. 253; NKE, p. 462; Roger Keyes, The Male Journey in Japanese Prints, 1989, book-jacket cover and no. 176