Keisei setsugekka (Courtesan: Sun, moon, and flowers: けいせい雪月花) premiered at the Kado Theater at the New Year in 1830. It was written by the superstar actor Nakamura Utaemon III under his penname Kanazawa Ryûgoku. Later, just one act (called Kari no tayori) was taken from the whole and performed as a light-hearted piece without the drama featured in the larger play. It is this extracted piece that is best known today.
This play is one of the many tales about the legendary rônin bandit Ishikawa Goemon (石川五右衛門). In real life, Goemon (1558 – 10/8/1594), at the age of sixteen, murdered three men during a robbery. He was finally captured many years later in 1594, whereupon the shogun Hideyoshi had him boiled in oil. The Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川五右衛門物) endowed the bandit with supernatural powers and devilish abilities to disguise himself, which provided playwrights with opportunities for fantastical action — often aided by clever stagecraft — and surprising plot twists.
After fires destroyed all three theaters in Edo in 3/1829, a number of renowned Edo actors relocated temporarily in Osaka to perform there while the Edo theaters were rebuilt. The 1/1830 production at the Kado no Shibai, which premiered Keisei setsugekka, was a huge hit, featuring Edo's Ichikawa Hakuen II (the name used by Ichikawa Danjûrô VII while acting in Osaka). The playwright and Osaka's biggest star, Nakamura Utaemon III, was in the cast, playing Ishikawa Goemon. Other Edo stars included Arashi Rikan II, Nakamura Matsue III, Matsumoto Kôshirô V, and Sawamura Kunitarô I. The same cast traveled to Kyoto to perform Setsugekka in the third month. Besides Shigeharu and Hokushû, seemingly all the top-level artists designed prints for this play, including Ashiyuki, Hokuei, Kunihiro, and Yoshikuni.
The plot of Keisei setsugekka, a jidaimono ("period piece" or history play: 時代物), is very complicated, especially as many characters were well known from various sekai ("worlds" or spheres: 世界), that is, they were derived from other kabuki and puppet plays as well as historical accounts and legends. As was the case for the present play, sekai often served as devices for presentating "doubling structures" wherein audiences could enjoy clever juxtapositions of contemporary and historical events and characters.
The headnotes on each sheet read as follows*:
(R) Hakuen-shi no shukkin to tomoni senkoto o omoite (Even if I receive little attention, I would like to open the way, a plum blossom in winter.).
(L) Futabi ninokawari ni arigataku mo otsutome shite (Here I come again in spite of the difficulties.).
The poems were written by the actors. On the right, Utaemon signs with his haigô (literary name: 俳号), "Baigyoku" (梅玉). On the left, Hakuen signs "Ichikawa Kime Hakuen" (市川喜目白猿).**
(R) Iro usuki / tera kara hirakan / fuyu no ume (Faint in color / From the temple grounds / a plum in winter) signed Baigyoku. The plum (ume or bai) in this verse puns on Utaemon's haigô "Baigyoku" (jeweled plum, 梅玉); it is also a term also associated with Osaka.
(L) Nagori nani / haru zo yakusha mo / uruu ka na (Another farewell performance / this spring even actors / get an extra month) signed Hakuen. The "extra month" refers to 1830 being an intercalary year in the new Tenpô era with an additional month inserted after the third lunar month. Danjûrô VII (Hakuen) is saying he would like to stay longer in Osaka.
This is a collaborative print (gassaku: 合作) or collective work for which more than one artist is responsible for the design. In Kamigata (Osaka-Kyoto region), gassaku were typically of two types: (1) a shared work by a master and his students, and (2) a collaboration among artists of equal status, as in our example (i.e., Shigeharu was not a pupil of Hokushû; he studied with Kunihiro and Shigenobu and by this time had students of his own).
The left sheet lacks a hand-stamped artist seal, as in the Ikeda Bunko Library impression (IKBYS-I, no. 178 below), but it does have the Honsei publisher seal. Our impression also has a change in the stripes of the robe, from green to blue. As the earliest editions, especially in the "surimono" style, tended not to have publisher seals, these differences suggest that ours is a second edition. Nevertheless, the printing is superlative, entirely worthy of being called a "surimono-style" edition.
This diptych bears the seals of one of the great block cutters in kamigata-e: Kasuke. The right sheet has his hand-stamped seal in red, partly trimmed, reading surimono hori Kasuke ("surimono carved by Kasuke"); the left sheet has his carved seal reading "Carved by Kasuke" (Kasuke horu: カスケホル).
References: IKBYS-I, no. 178; WAS-IV, no. 411 (left only); SDK, no. 419; IKB-I, no. 1-467; KNP-6, p. 227; * Translations of headnotes in SDK, no. 419; translation of poems by Drew Gerstle in KHO, no. 270.