Kuruwa bunshô (Love letter from the pleasure quarter: 廓文章), written by the great playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (近松門左衛門 1653-1725), premiered in 10/1808 at the Nakamura-za, Edo. The two-act play was one of many Yûgiri-mono (plays about Yûgiri: 夕霧物) written as sewamono (lit., "everyday pieces" or domestic dramas: 世話物) that were inspired by the real-life death of Yûgiri (夕霧 1654-1678), a celebrated pleasure-woman of the Ôgiya (扇屋) in Shinmachi, Osaka. Fujiya Izaemon (ふじや[藤屋]伊左衛門) was her wealthy young lover. Chikamatsu first dramatized their tale in his Yûgiri nagori no shôgatsu (Farewell to Yûgiri at the New Year: 夕霧名残の正月) in 1678, a month after her actual death. Some kabuki scholars consider the 1678 play to be the first sewamono in Japanese theater.
The plot features Fujiya Izaemon, who has been disinherited due to his reckless behavior in the Shinmachi pleasure quarter and his love for the famous courtesan Ôgiya Yûgiri of the Yoshidaya brothel. Making matters worse, the lovers have a child together (living elsewhere). He roams the streets aimlessly, lost in his thoughts and desire for Yûgiri, when he learns that she, too, yearns to see him. Later, however, he also hears a rumor that she has a rich patron (the samurai Aira Hiraoka, who has also adopted the lovers' child). The penniless Izaemon finally manages to gain entry to the Yoshidaya, where he imagines Yûgiri is with her new client. She joins Izaemon and greets him affectionately, but he has worked himself into such a state that his anger will not permit him to return her affections. Yûgiri waits patiently for his anger to gradually subside when, serendiptously, news reaches Izaemon that his mother has reinstated his inheritance. Messengers deliver to him a senryô-bako (box containing 1,000 gold coins: 千両箱) and other gifts so that he might ransom Yûgiri from her servitude, whereupon the house maids begin preparations for a wedding. Adding to their good fortune, their child is also returned to them.
Today, Kuruwa bunshô is performed in a manner closer to dance than to a dramatic play.
The term tôsei (當世 or 当世) in the series title refers to that which is contemporary, up-to-date, or modern. It shares connotations with imayô (今様), something that is current, fashionable, or new, as reflected in the arts and culture of the Edo period. As far as Sadamasu's print is concerned, tôsei suggests that the actor Tomijûrô II was au courant in his interpretation of the role. There is a companion sheet to the right, not offered here, that depicts Kataoka Gadô II as Fujiya Izaemon.
Despite the moderate condition issues, we are nevertheless offering this fine portrait as an opportuinity to acquire a rare design at a bargain price.
References: KNP-6, p. 389; Victoria & Albert Museum; Sadamasu web page