Katakiuchi Ganryûjima (Revenge at Ganryû Island: 敵討巌流島) was one of the many popular tales of vengeance and retribution staged in kabuki. These "revenge plays" were called katakiuchi mono (敵討物) or adauchi mono (仇打ち物). The plot of Katakiuchi Ganryûjima is unknown to us, although it must be related to other revenge dramas involving the legendary Miyamoto Musashi, such as Katakiuchi nitô no eiyûki (A tale of revenge and great courage: 復讐二島英勇記). In one scene from that play, Musashi adroitly uses a wood sword — a deadly weapon in the hands of a master — to slay the murderer of his father. In another legend, Musashi challenged his long-time rival and expert swordsman Sasaki Kojirô (佐々木 小次郎, also known as Ganryû Kojirô, (1585? – April 13, 1612; his fighting name Ganryû meaning "large rock style" 巌流) to a duel on the remote Ganryû Island (at Funashima, the strait between Honshû and Kyûhsû). Legendary or not, Kojirô is considered Musashi's most formidable opponent, and the last one he killed. In the duel, Musashi is said to have fashioned a very long wooden sword (bokken 木剣 or bokutô 木刀) from an oar while traveling by boat to the arranged duel.
The historical Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584-1645; 宮本 武蔵), whose name meant "Storehouse of military knowledge," was born in Mimasaka or Harima, Japan. He became a legendary swordsman and the son of the celebrated fencing master Yoshioka Tarozaemon, a retainer of the Ashikaga shôgun Yoshiteru. Musashi was a bold and reputedly reckless adventurer who nevertheless survived armed combat more than 60 times and died a natural death on June 13, 1645 in Higo. Today, Musashi is widely known in the West as the author of Gorin no sho (The Book of Five Rings: 五輪書), a treatise on military tactics, strategy, and philosophy. After its first English translation in 1974, the book captured the popular imagination and was studied earnestly by business executives in the West to understand Japanese management techniques and strategies used during Japan's rise to economic power (since then, of course, somewhat diminished).
Arashi Tokusaburô III (1812-1863) was first a student of Onoe Tamizô II, and began acting as Onoe Wasaburô. He then became a disciple of Arashi Rikan II in 1830, taking the name Arashi Tokusaburô III while also working as a zamoto (kabuki play producer: 座元) at the Kado Theater, Osaka in 1831. In Kyoto he first performed as Musashi in Katakiuchi Ganryûjima in late 1832, and began to receive high rankings in the yakusha hyôbanki (actor evaluation books: 評判記). His master Rikan II died in 1837, but Tokusaburô III did not inherit the name until 1843, when he became Rikan III. He continued performing as one of the highest ranking actors in Edo (1851-55), Osaka, Kyoto, Ise, and Nagoya. He was a superior tachiyaku (leading man: 立役) and onnagata (lit., "woman's manner", i.e., a performer of women's roles: 女方 or 女形), as well as a talented samisen player. Upon his death in 1863 in Osaka, he left behind the legacy of a fine kaneru yakusha ("all-around actor": 兼ねる役者), an actor who could perform any type of role.
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.
References: IKBYS-III, no. 133; KNP-6, p. 427. Other: See no. 60 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.