Kamakura sandaiki was a jidaimono originally written for the puppet theater. It chronicles in an updated fashion events linked with the fall of Osaka
Castle in 1615, but set back in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) to avoid the Tokugawa shogunate's censorship of staging recent historical events involving the
ruling samurai class. This drama features Sasaki Takatsuna, a Genji general defending Sakamoto Castle against the onslaught of the Heike forces. The tale
features disguises and assassination plots, and ultimately Takatsuna's own suicide after he mistakenly beheads a Heike princess sympathetic to the Genji by virtue
of her engagement to a young Genji warrior named Sakamoto Miuranosuke.
Takatsuna is depicted in Kunhiro's design in full battle regalia, but he is identified as hyakushô Tôza jitsuhachi Sasaki Takatsuna
("the farmer Tôza, actually Sasaki Takatsuna"). In the play Takatsuna assumes the identity of Adachi Tôzaburô while pretending
to be a Heike ally. The inscription might seem a bit misleading, given the costume, but one convention of actor portraiture was to identify simultaneous roles
while showing only one. Fans of the actor would not have been disturbed by this, as they were intimately familiar with the plays.
The total number of kamigata-e has been estimated at no more than 5 percent of the production of prints from Edo. Still rarer, surviving prints of
performances from the Kyoto theaters — as in Kunihiro's composition — are a tiny fraction of kamigata-e.
Full-frontal yakusha-e designs are uncommon both in Edo and Osaka printmaking. Given that the actor's mie (glare) is directed right at the viewer,
these compositions are nearly always dramatic portrayals. Kuniyoshi has introduced further visual interest with the outstretched arm and jutting accoutrements. We
can see both the long (katana) and short (wakizashi) swords forming crossed diagonals, with the halberd (naginata) extending along an even stronger
diagonal from the middle top to the lower left. Utaemon's boldly striped leg coverings echo the diagonals of the swords. His upper robes form a triangular
capstone to the vertical of the legs and closely spaced feet. The medallions on his upper robe include the auspicious Japanese characters for wealth (takara)
and longevity (ei or naga), plus another that might be read as "expert" (tsû).
Provenance: Okada Isajiro (岡田伊三次郎), a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its gradual dispersal starting in the year 2000 — a blockbuster event in
the world of kamigata-e; see KAM).
References: OSP, no. 125; KNZ, nos. 295-296; KNP-6, p, 177; IKB-II, no. 23-90; NKE, p. 264