Beni murasaki aide someage (Scarlet and purple Osaka-dyed: 紅紫大坂潤) featured the role of Tôken ["China Dog"] Jûbei, an otokodate (lit., "standing man" or chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作) who was an ally of one of the most notorious otokodate, Banzuin Chôbei (who was as well a confederate of the outlaw Shirai Gonpachi). Thus Beni murasaki was another of the kabuki adaptations called Gonpachi Komurasaki mono (plays about Gonpachi and Komurasaki: 権八小紫物) based on actual tales involving unrelated historical figures.
The historical samurai Shirai (Hirai) Gonpachi (白井権八) was guilty of murder and robbery, leading to his execution in 1679. Banzuin Chôbei (幡随長兵衛), ca. 1622-1657, was a legendary otokodate said to have been killed by Mizuno Jûrozaemon, a leader of hatamoto-yakko (bannermen foot soldiers: 旗本奴). Banzuin was also the subject of puppet and kabuki plays called Banzuin Chôbei mono (plays about Banzuin Chôbei: 番随長兵衛物).
The theatrical version of Gonpachi presents him — by age 16 — as a dashing otokodate famous for his good looks, bravery, and swordsmanship. In one episode he kills a fellow samurai and flees to Edo, where at an inn he is warned by a 15-year-old beauty named Komurasaki that the owner is a gang leader plotting to murder him for his sword. Gonpachi swiftly kills all ten of the gang. Afterwards he visits the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter and finds Komurasaki at the Miuraya brothel, now a prostitute selling herself to earn money for her destitute parents. Without the funds to ransom her, Gonpachi turns to a life of debauchery, supporting himself by robbery and murder. When he is finally captured and executed, the devoted Komurasaki takes her life at his grave. To honor their memory, sympathetic citizens build a tumulus called hiyokuzuka ("lovers' tomb") and temple priests carve a picture of the Hiyoku no tori (比翼鳥), a mythical love-bird — both male and female, each with one eye and one wing — that when flying join as one sex, symbolizing connubial love and fidelity.
This is a gassaku (collective work: 合作) — paintings, drawings, and prints by two or more artists working on the same theme in a shared pictorial space. As this example demonstrates, artists in Kamigata occasionally designed polyptychs, one artist to a sheet, to create unified compositions.
Ashikuni and Hokushû (signing here as Shunkô 春好) headed two parallel circles of artists. Ashikuni was active c. 1801-20, and Hokushû c. 1807-32. Finding any print from 1816 in good condition and with strong colors is always a challenge, so we are pleased to be able to offer this example.
References: WAS-IV/V, no. 104; TML (Tokyo Metropolitan Library 4647-22); SDK, no. 405