This performance was on a program that announced the name changes (shûmei: 襲名) for two of Osaka's leading actors, the superstar Nakamura Utaemon III (三代目 中村歌右衛門), who took the name Nakamura Tamasuke I (一代目 中村玉助), and his protégé Nakamura Shikan II (二代目 中村芝翫), who inherited his master's name, becoming Nakamura Utaemon IV (四代目 中村歌右衛門).
Nishiki no tsuta katsura (Ivy brocade and flowering cherry: 錦の蔦かつら) was probably adapted from a kyôgen (狂言 classical comic theater play; also a term referring simply to a kabuki play) titled Utsubozaru (The monkey quiver: 靱猿), which was itself a retelling of an earlier dance play, Kotobuki utsubozaru (Long-life monkey quiver). Kabuki variants of this tale were popular in both Osaka and Edo. Two years after the present staging, Utaemon IV performed in the dance Utsubozaru for the premiere of Hana butai kasumi no saruhiki (A flowery stage and pulling a monkey in the mist) in 11/1838 at the Ichimura-za, Edo.
The story involves Miyoshino, a female who is, most unusually, also a lord (daimyô: 大名). She has lost her husband's leather monkey quiver (utsubo: 靱猿), but when shwee spies a monkey after it has broken free from its master, an opportunity is provided — she orders the animal trainer to sacrifice his monkey so that she might use its skin for a new leather quiver. When the handler weeps, Mitoshino spares the monkey's life and joins them in a dance. The role of the monkey typically featured a child performer (sometimes celebrating his first shûmei).
This unusual subject forms the right half of a diptych, with the adjoining sheet depicting Nakamura Shikan [II] aratame [changing to] Nakamura Utaemon IV, performing as a saruhiki (monkey leader: 猿引) protecting his pet from the hanayumizukai. Here the flower-arrow archer is shown readying her bow and arrow as she is about to shoot the monkey.
The orange sky is rare in the works of Hokuei—we have found no other examples. Moreover, this design is very difficult to find available for purchase.
References: IKBYS-II, no. 257; IKB-I, no. 1-499; KNP-VI, p. 323; KAM, p. 257(121); TWOP, no. 177 (right sheet only, as with our present offering)