The actor Ichikawa Morinosuke II (市川森之助) was active in the 1830s-50s. After around 1847, he took the name Ichikawa Shikô. He was a friend of the artist Sadamasu, who portrayed Morinosuke in both ôban and chûban formats. He performed mainly in the middle theaters, such as the Wakadayû and Ônishi, which sometimes makes it difficult to identify the actual performance, as productions from the smaller theaters do not have a complete historical record. For the play illustrated here, a confirming kabuki record has not yet been found, although it is likely to have been performed around 1840.
Ehon tengachayamura (Picture book of the gathering at Tengajaya: 絵本殿下茶屋聚) is a dramatization of the actual events. Adapted from Katakiuchi Tengajayamura(Revenge at Tengajayamura: 敵討殿下茶屋聚) at the Kado no Shibai, Osaka in 1781, a popular revenge play (adauchi mono: 仇打ち物) and jidaimono ("period piece" or history play: 時代物) in Osaka, the plots of both plays were based on events from 1609 when the samurai Hayashi Genzaburô (renamed Hayase Genjirô for censorship reasons) took revenge upon Tôma Saburôemon, the murderer of his father (renamed Hayase Genba) and elder brother (Hayase Iori) at Tengajaya (Dengachaya) village near Osaka. The play is sometimes read as Ehon Dengachaya mura.
Hayase Genba, a retainer for the Ukita clan and father of Genjirô and his brother Iori, has been killed by Tôma, a skilled swordsman. The brothers begin to track down Tôma, but they encounter obstacles complicated by their search for an heirloom painting (in other adaptations, it is a poem card). They are betrayed by their servant Adachi Genemon (also read as Motoemon), who steals money (raised by Iori's wife, Somenoi, who sells herself to a brothel to buy the painting) and a sword from Genjirô, which he uses to kill another Hayase servant and injure Iori. Later, Genemon joins up with Tôma and his servant Udesuke. Then, in the woods near the Fukushima Tenjin Shrine, they attack Iori, who despite his wounds, summons the strength to slash Tôma on the arm. In the end, however, he is slain by Genemon and Udesuke. Upon finding his brother's body, the grief-stricken Genjirô must be stopped from drowning himself. Help finally arrives in the person of Ningyôya Kôuemon, once in the service of Hayase Genba. He secures the painting and buys out Somenoi's brothel contract, whereupon he, Somenoi, Genjirô, and Hazue (Genjirô' wife) all journey to the Dengachaya. They first obtain permission from the local authorities to execute their vendetta, and then murder Tôma and Genemon.
Sadamasu's design is fascinating because it is one of the rare examples of Osaka single-sheet prints revealing members of the audience and backstage crew. A stagehand is shown pulling a curtain behind Morinosuke. We can also gain a sense of just how intimate the view was (and still is) from the seats closest to the hanamichi ("flower path": 花道), the raised passageway extending from the kabuki stage into the audience. Many of the most dramatic or celebrated moments in certain plays occurred during entrances, poses, or exits along the hanamichi. The Kokon yakusha taizen (Encyclopedia of actors then and now, 1750) states that the passageway was added so that the audience and especially members of fan clubs could present gifts to the actors, who were often given flowers.
This design appears to be rare. Currently, we know of only this example and one other in the Victoria and Alvert Museum, London; it is not listed in the inventories of the major Japanese institutional inventories.
References: Jan van Doesburg Sadamasu web page; NKE, p. 291