Hagi wa Sendai Na wa Matsumoto (Matsumoto and the famous autumn flowers of Sendai: 秋花先代名松本) appears to be a reworking of the well-known Meiboku sendai hagi (Bush clover, the famous tree of Sendai: 伽羅先代萩), a play dramatizing the intriques over the
succession within the Date clan of Sendai during the third quarter of the seventeenth century. Meiboku is a classic play, so popular that
during the Edo period it had at least one performance nearly every year after its premiere in 1777, and it spawned a number of adaptations, as in
the Hagi wa production at the Naka in 1821. In the play, Nikki Danjô conspires to overthrow Ashikaga (a
theatrical substitute for the Date clan name) Yorikane, but Nikki is foiled in the end and slain.
The ghostly rodent is actually Nikki in metamorphosis — he possesses magical powers, including the ability to
turn himself into a giant rat. Nikki holds his hands in the manner associated with nercromancy as the rat emerges from his human form (note the lighter
shading of the tail and hindquarters, indicating that the transformation is still in progress). Nikki is a prime example of an important role type known
as jitsuaku (or tategataki) — unrepentant evil samurai who plot to overthrow their lords. They are also referred to as kuni
kuzushi ("demolisher of nations") to signify their intention to usurp an emperor's throne or a daimyô's domain.
The rat clenches with his teeth a scroll containing a list of conspirators planning to wrest power from Yorikane. Later, pretending to have reformed, Nikki will substitute
another list and offer 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.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 100; IKB-I, 2-372; KNP-6, p. 79; NKE, p. 394