Ichikawa Hakuen II (市川白猿) was the temporary acting name of the Edo superstar Ichikawa Danjûrô VII (市川 團十郎 1791-1859; also known as Ichikawa Ebizô V), who performed briefly (5/1829 to 3/1830 ) in Osaka after fires destroyed all three Edo theaters (Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za) in 3/1829. Hakuen also performed in Sakai and Kyoto in the tenth and eleventh months of 1829, respectively, and toured Ise, Nagoya and Tateyama in spring and summer 1830 before returning to Edo in 8/1830. His appearance in Osaka caused quite a sensation, and fans filled the theaters to watch him perform. The name Hakuen was first used on the kabuki stage by his grandfather, Danjûrô V, in the premiere of Date kurabe Okuni kabuki (The Date rivalry as Okuni kabuki: 伊達競阿國劇場) in 1778. The play was based on actual events involving the Date clan of Sendai in the 1660s, but was reset in the Muramachi period (1336-1568) with the names of the protagonists altered to avoid censorship imposed by the shogunate..
In the aforementioned Date kurabe Okuni kabuki, Hakuen performed an impressive seven roles: Arajishi Otokonosuke, Nikki Danjo, Dôsetsu, Hosokawa Katsumoto, Kinugawa Tanizô, Yashio, and Yorikane. The play was one of the Date sôdô mono (Date family-troubles plays) featuring various retellings of sagas involving the Date (伊達) clan of Sendai in Ôshû, beginning in the 1660s when the daimyô Tsunamune was forced to retire. Some of the theatrical dramatizations had fantastical subplots, such as the one central to Date kurabe Okuni kabuki involving the usurper Nikki Danjô, endowed with magical powers, who plots to overthrow the clan leader Ashikaga Yorikane. The heroic samurai Arajishi Otokonosuke, a retainer of the Date clan, is Nikki Danjo's nemesis.
Nikki Danjo possessed the ability to turn himself into a giant rat as a way of disguising himself. Some prints actually depict Nikki as the ghostly rodent, and frequently Otokonosuke is portrayed raising a metal folding fan as he prepares to strike the rodent Nikki. Hokuei, however, has chosen the moment just before Nikki's metamorphosis. He holds his hands in the manner associated with nercromancy, indicating that the transformation is imminent. In his mouth we see a scroll containing a list that names the conspirators planning to wrest power from Yorikane. Later, pretending to have reformed, Nikki substitutes a different list and offers it as trumped-up evidence of the conspiracy, only to remove a dagger hidden within the scroll and mortally wound a counsel and ally of Yorikane's son. Ultimately, Nikki is foiled and slain.
The kumadori (red-striped makeup, lit. "taking the shadows": 隈取), the wig, and costume with peony motif are associated with the role of Otokonosuke. Nikki Danjo is a prime example of an important role type known as jitsuaku ("real villains": 実悪) — unrepentant evil samurai who plot to overthrow their lords. They are also referred to as kuni kuzushi ("demolisher of nations": 國崩し) to signify their intention to usurp an emperor's throne or a daimyô's domain.
Other impressions are in the Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka (inv H140); Waseda University, Tokyo (inv 201-4767); Konan Women's University, Kobe (#487); and the Art & History Museum, Brussels (JP.07040).
References: IKBYS-II, no. 253); KNZ, no. 487; KNP-6, p. 215