Tenmangû natane no gokû (The rapeseed offering at the heaven-filling shrine: 天満宮菜種御供) premiered in 4/1777 as a nine-act adaptation of earlier plays based on the life and legends surrounding Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) Sugawara was a celebrated scholar, poet, statesman, and calligrapher who ran afoul of the ruling Fujiwara (one of the four great clans of Japan, the others being the Tachibana, Minamoto, and Taira). He died in exile, but in 987 was deified as a Tenjin or "heavenly deity" (hence plays about him are called Tenjin mono). In the main thread of the drama, Fujiwara no Tokihira (Shihei) was a high-ranking courtier plotting to overthrow the emperor. Through deceit he gains Sugawara's trust, then frames him for the conspiracy. (Tokihira reveals the full extent of his evil character in a celebrated and unusual scene called warai no maku or "laughing curtain," in which he utters a cruel laugh as the curtain is drawn.) Sugawara is exiled to Kyûshû, where he finally learns of Tokihira's treachery. After offering his prayers, he becomes a thunder god and sends his spirit back to the capital to kill Tokihira.
A variation of this tale was presented in an earlier related drama for the puppet theater in 1746, Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (Mirror of learning & transmitting Sugawara's secrets of calligraphy: 菅原伝授手習鑑 ). Sukune Tarô, an ally of Fujiwara no Tokihira (Shihei) who is aiding the courtier in the plot against Sugawara no Michizane (Kan Shôjô), intends to assassinate the statesman. When Tarô's wife Tatsuta no Mae attempts to talk him out of his treachery, Tarô kills her and hides her body in a pond. Tarô's intrigue fails, and upon the discovery of Tatsuta no Mae's body, he is identified as his wife's murderer because he had foolishly torn a piece of cloth from his sleeve to use as a gag on his wife. In due time Tarô is slain.
Nakamura Shikan III strikes one of the dramatic poses (mie, 見得) that is commonly found in ukiyo-e actor prints, with the head thrust forward and an arm across the torso. In this instance, Shikan's right forearm and hand are placed under the kimono, which is decorated with an imposing serpent intricately worked into the shibori (shaped resist, 絞り) tie-dyed dappled pattern. A tenugui (cotton towel, 手拭 or 手ぬぐい) is tossed over the right shoulder. Note, also, that it is unusual for an actor's ear to show through the wig, as it does here.
- IKBYS-III, no. 138 (acc. no. Z0453-138)
- KNP-6, pp. 427; IKB-I, p. 101, no. 2-463
- Jan van Doesburg, Sadamasu web page