This drama offers a fanciful retelling of events during the reign of the Emperor Yôzei (868-944), including the legendary Michikaze (Ono no Tôfû), one of Japan's three great calligraphers. With a mischievious twist, the present tale depicts Tôfû as an illiterate carpenter reared as a commoner (the result of a crime committed by his father, an exiled imperial councilor) whose writing skills were the result of a miracle initiated by his nurse sacrificing herself and dipping a brush in her blood.
Dotsuko no Daroku is an ally of a samurai named Hayanari who conspires against the emperor. Daroku attempts to recruit Tôfû, but at first the men fight. Daroku is thrown into a pond, emerging only to strike a frog-like mie (alluding to the famous legend of Ono no Tôfû finding inspiration to continue to hone his calligraphic skills in competition for a higher ministerial post after observing a frog repeatedly leaping to reach a willow branch). Tôfû then pretends to ally himself with Daroku as a subterfuge to infiltrate Hayanari's forces, and manages in the end to join with his half brother and othes to defeat the conspirators.
This diptych is a good example of post-Tenpô Reform printmaking. The actors are unnamed (to avoid censorship), but were easily recognized by their physiognomies. The close-up bust portraits (okubi-e) fill the sheets with the formidable bodies of the two adversaries, Tôfû in courtly attire, holding an umbrella (kasa) and a folding fan (ôgi), his tall lacquered hat (eboshi) contrasting with Daroku's large straw headgear. The leaves of a willow tree (yanagi) can be seen in silhouette behind the figures, reminding us of the calligrapher's encounter with the persevering frog.
IKBYS-III, no. 151; OSP, no. 206; TWOP, no. 61; KNP-6, p. 514; IKB-I, no. 5-40; NKE, p. 511