The historical Ishikawa Goemon was a notorious masterless samurai (rônin) during the reign of the shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
At age sixteen he murdered three men while attempting to steal from his master. After his escape, he lived as a bandit for the next two decades until,
in 1594, he was finally captured during a failed attempt to kill Hideyoshi. Goemon met a grisly end by being boiled in oil.
The theatrical Goemon was transformed into a hero — fearless, elusive, and endowed with magical powers. The first staging of Goemon's exploits
occurred in the 1680s. Kinmon gosan no kiri premiered in 1788 as a five-act drama (it was renamed to Sanmon gosan no kiri for its premiere
in Edo in 1800). It recounts Goemon's efforts to take revenge against Mashiba Hisayoshi (a pseudonym for the historical Hideyoshi), the enemy of both
his adoptive and natural fathers. The gosan ("five, three [of paulownia]") in the title refers to the five flowers on the three stems
above the paulownia (kiri) leaves, Hideyoshi's particular version of the kiri crest (visible on each sleeve), for centuries symbolic
of imperial and shogunal power.
Hokushû has portrayed Goemon cornered on a rooftop by a band of police brandishing nightsticks called jutte, weapons used by
samurai and Tokugawa-period police. The small hook served to trap an adversary's blade or fingers. The banners are inscribed with names that
identify the printmakers. The publisher (Yamaichi) is named on the green banner at the far left, the block cutter (horiko Kasuke) on
the middle blue banner, and the printer on the right-hand pink banner (surimono-shi Tentoku).
References: IKBYS-I, no. 117; KNZ, no. 156; IKB-I, no. 2-378; KNP-6, p. 86; NKE, p. 551