The play was based on a thirteenth-century chronicle called Genpei seisuiki ("Story of the rise and fall of the Heike and Genji
during the Genpei wars") about the pivotal battles between the Heike and Genji clans in 1184. Chidori was a maidservant in the Kajiwara
family who loved Genta, but his younger brother Heiji Kagetaka — who is plotting to overthrow Genta and take control of the Kajiwara fortunes
— also desires Chidori. When Heiji reports a story of Genta's failure to be the first to cross the Uji River in an attack against the
Heike and unjustly brands his brother a coward, the two fight and Heiji is forced to run away. The accusation is too serious to ignore, however, and
Genta is disinherited by his mother. Chidori remains faithful to Genta, and after the two flee, Chidori becomes the prostitute Umegae to support Genta
in his quest to regain his inheritance (her sacrifice was called miura, "selling human life"). He ultimately succeeds after proving
his bravery in battle, and Heiji is slain.
The signature announces the artist's name change (taking the character "Kuni" from his teacher, the Edo master Utagawa Kunisada). A further
nod toward Kunisada is made with the use of the oblong toshidama-style cartouches ("New Year's Jewel" or "New Year's
Gift," a type of year seal used as the crest of the Utagawa school of artists).
The role names are inscribed in bat-frame cartouches on the right and left sheets, and in the toshidama cartouche on the middle sheet. The series
title is given only on the right and left sheets within the toshidama cartouches. The actors are not identified, as the design was issued too soon
after Osaka publishers began their tentative return to business following the Tenpô Reforms (1842-47) ban against actor prints. The series title
also reflects their caution, serving as a moralizing pretext for what was actually a portrayal of actors in a current kabuki play.
The printing of this deluxe design is especially fine, with beautiful gradations and intricate patterns.
IKBYS-III, no. 146; KNP, vol. 6, p. 514; NKE, p. 167