Yoshitsune senbon zakura (Yoshitsune and the thousand cherry trees: 義経千本桜) was written by Takeda Izumo II, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Namiki Senryû and first performed at the Takemoto-za, Osaka in 1747. The play involves various episodes from a historical tale involving the military conflicts between Heike and Genji (Taira vs. Minamoto) clans. The real Tadanobu is an ally of Lady Shizuka Gozen, the concubine of the celebrated warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) in flight from his half brother Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), Japan's military leader.
In the dramatization, Yoshitsune is forced to leave Shizuka, whereupon he gives her a hand drum as a keepsake. When she is attacked by a retainer of Yoritomo's, the fox-Tadanobu saves her. Yoshitsune observes this from a distance and gives the fox-impostor a suit of armor, thinking that he is entrusting Shizuka Gozen’s safety to the real Tadanobu. But when she plays the drum, Tadanobu undergoes a metamorphosis and begins to dance (see HKE07), his movements animal-like, for the drum is made from the skins of his parents. Finally, all is revealed, and Yoshitsune gives Tadanobu the hand drum in appreciation of his loyalty. In one last act of dedication, the fox drives off six armed priests sent to assassinate Yoshitsune before returning to the animal world.
This sheet offers an excellent example of Sadamasu's contribution toward the development of a mature chûban-format style in Kamigata before 1842 (pre-Tenpô Reforms). Here he fills about three-quarters of the pictorial space with a half-length portrait of the actor — using a compositional device that characterizes his approach toward positioning figures within the chûban format. Additional visual vitality is added by the inclusion of a butterfly moving out beyond the picture frame at the top right.
References: IKBYS-III, no. 141; NKE, p. 708. Other: See no. 74 in Jan van Doesburg's online Sadamasu catalogue (Huys den Esch website). Also see that author's articles in Andon (Bulletin of the Society for Japanese Arts), no. 10, pp. 5-9, and no. 36, pp. 111-119.