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) titled 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 Hakkenden (Eight loyal dogs: 八犬傳) refers to the widely popular stories and theatrical productions about nine generations of a fictional clan, the Satomi. In particular, these tales recount the exploits of eight "dog warriors" who were the offspring of their mother Fusehime, given as a reward to a demonic dog, Yatsufusa, which had brought her father (Yoshizane Satomi) the head of his enemy Kagetsura. The brothers were scattered throughout different parts of Awa province, but were recognizable by their names (each included the character for inu or "dog" (犬), peony birthmarks (the mon or crest of the Satomi clan), and rosary beads (or crystals or luminous spheres), each containing a kanji character for the respective eight Confucian virtues, who are identified below (in order of their appearance in the drama.
- Inuzuka Shino Moritaka (犬塚 信乃 戍孝): kô (孝) - filial piety or devotion
- Inukawa Sôsuke Yoshitô (犬川 荘助 義任): gi (義) - duty and obligation
- Inuyama Dôsetsu Tadatomo (犬山 道節 忠與): chû (忠) - loyalty
- Inukai Genpachi Nobumichi (犬飼 現八 信道): shin (信) - faith
- Inuta Kobungo Yasuyori (犬田 小文吾 悌順): tei (悌) - brotherhood
- Inue Shinbei Masashi (犬江 親兵衛 仁): jin (仁) - sympathy and benevolence
- Inuzaka Keno Tanetomo (犬阪 毛野 胤智): chi (知) - wisdom
- Inumura Daikaku (Kakutarô) Masanori (犬村 大角 礼儀): rei (礼) - courtesy
The scene shown here depicts the fight on the roof of the Hôryûkaku Pavilion (tower) of Koga Castle near the banks of the Tone River, one of the more celebrated episodes in Bakin's tale. At this point, the dueling brothers are unaware of each other's identity. Ultimately, they slip off the roof, land unconscious in a boat, and float down river. They do eventually reconcile through the intercession of Kanamari Daisuke, a former retainer of Princess Fuse's father and the slayer of the dog Yatsufusa, who has been searching for the princess's eight children. In an alternate theatrical version, the two combatants, after recovering consciousness, engage in conversation and learn that they are brothers. In either case, they go on to pursue further adventures in the complex tale.
In his well-balanced composition, Hokuei portrays Genpachi and Shino very near the edge of the roof, probably only moments before falling off into the boat far below. The actors strike standard poses (forms called kata, 型) used in choreographed kabuki fight scenes (tachimawari: 立回り).
References: IKBYS-II, no. 380; inv H255); Tokyo Metropolitan Library (4647-023/024); Prague National Museum; Hamburg (S2009.111.ab-1); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston(11.35297-8); KNP-6, p. 323; NKE, p. 556