Hikosan gongen chikai no sukedachi (A vow to serve with a sword at Mt. Hiko Shrine: 彦山権現誓助剣) is one of a great many adauchi mono (revenge tales: 仇打ち物). The play first was performed as a ningyô jôruri (puppet play: 人形淨瑠璃) in 1786 (Kabuki premiered in 1790 at the Naka no Shibai, Osaka). When Yoshioka Ichimisai, a sword instructor to the Kôri (Môri) clan, is killed by Kyôgoku no Takumi, his widow Okô and daughters Osono and Okiku swear revenge. Okiku is killed by Takumi, but her young son Yasamatsu escapes. Around the same time, Keyamura Rokusuke, once a student of Yoshioka Ichimisai, is surviving as a farmer. Even so, he is a samurai known for his filial piety and incredible strength. His swordsmanship is so renowned that the local daimyô (military lord: 大名) proclaims that anyone who can defeat Rokusuke will be hired as a sword instructor. Rokusuke finds Yasamatsu without realizing he is the grandson of his late teacher. He hangs the boy's kismono outside his house hoping that his family will see it. Rokusuke is visited first by an elderly woman, and then by a woman disguised as a komusô (traveling priest: 虚無僧). She sees Yasamatsu's kimono and misidentifies Rokusuke as an enemy. He fends off her fierce attack, and then Yasamatsu identifies her as his aunt Osono. She suddenly takes on a feminine demeanor, a transformation in voice and body movement that is a highlight of the play. Then the elderly woman reveals her identify as Yoshioka Ichimisai's widow and mother of Osono. Meanwhile, Takumi has taken on the disguise of a rônin (masterless samurai, lit., "wave man": 浪人) named Mijin Danjô. After Osono identifies Mijin Danjô as Takumi, Rokusuke joins in the effort to avenge his swordmaster's murder. When Rokusuke is refused a match against Danjô because of his humble state as a farmer, he becomes a retainer of the great warrior general Katô Kiyomasa (加藤清正, 1561-1611) after demonstrating his martial skills and is given the name Kida Magobee (貴田孫兵衛). Now a worthy samurai, he challenges Mijin Danjô to a match and defeats him. The play ends with Kiyomasa's departure for the Korean campaign (1592-98).
This is the right sheet of a diptych, with the left sheet depicting Arashi Tokusaburō III as Ichimisai musume (Ichimisai's daughter) Osono. Sadamasu's signature is placed within a toshidama-style cartouche (年玉 "New Year's jewel" or "New Year's gift"), a type of year seal used as the crest by the Utagawa school of artists. Sadamasu's link to the school is documented on a print dated 3/1834 where he signed as a pupil of Utagawa Kunisada I.
The print offered here is a fine example of Sadamasu's pre-Tenpô Reform portrait style, demonstrating his maturity in chûban design before the format became the preferred print size for Kamigata actor prints after 1/1847. The distinctive gradated red background is one Sadamasu favored in at least seven designs starting in 8/1839. Here, it is especially well-preserved, as is the same colorant highlighting Ichizô's face. The actor is holding a long pipe (kiseru: 烟管), one of the accessories associated with sophisticates of the floating world. During this period, a commoner was prohibited from carrying a long sword and so the well-to-do townsman could not flaunt his financial status with a display of such weaponry. Instead, an elaborate kiseru slung from the obi (belt or waist sash: 帯) often served a similar purpose. For a fascinating still life with kiseru and tabako-ire (tobacco container: 煙草入, a pouch for carrying loose tobacco), see Baien.
Provenance: Our impression of Sadamasu's print was in the famed Haber collection, from which Dean Schwaab (see OSP reference in Bibliography) illustrated many but not all of that collection's many fine prints.
OK, p. 102, no, 85; Sadamasu website (van Doesburg)