Portrayals of actors in private life are a relative rarity, both in Edo and Osaka printmaking, though even more so in kamigata-e.
Hokushû's composition provides an uncommon glimpse into the off-stage activities of Osaka's pop-culture icons.
In an idyllic setting with flowering cherry blossoms (sakura) above and fields in the distance, thirteen actors have assembled for an outing
on the grounds of what appears to be a shrine — the two columns at the far left might be the posts of a gate (torii) before a Shintô
shrine. A stone lantern (ishidôrô) stands nearby. Actors of various ranks — from minor performers to superstars —
are presented in an attractive tableau. Note that the four specialists of female roles (onnagata) all wear their purple silk headscarfs
(murasaki-boshi, used to cover their shaved pates while performing as women), an affectation meant to promote their female personnas away
from the theaters.
Appropriate to the situation, all the kimono are restrained in their decorations, although Ebijûrô wears an under-kimono patterned with
repeated sickles (kama), circles (wa), and hiragana characters for nu — which form a rebus pronounced kamawanu,
meaning "It doesn't matter." This was a popular and mildly irreverant expression during the Edo period, and a common textile design pattern. While
the actors stand around holding folding fans (ôgi) or smoking pipes (kiseru), Danpachi and Korokurô chase a small green frog.
One might recall that by this time Kichisaburô and Utaemon had been fierce rivals who hadn't performed together for nearly twenty years. Here they
appear on sheets at opposite ends of the composition. Is it possible that Kichisaburô is pointing toward Utaemon?
Each print bears the inscription shimai tsuzuki ("four-sheet series") along with the sheet number within a small circle. The publisher's seal
appears on only the two sheets farthest to the right.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 76