Michiyuki hatsune no tabi (First song along a road journey: 道行初音旅) appears to be an adaptation of the saga of Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源の義経, 1159-89), although the title also refers to a popular dance sequence from Act IV of the most famous and enduring of all Yoshitsune dramas, the kabuki masterpiece Yoshitsune senbon zakura (Yoshitsune and the thousand cherry trees: 義経千本桜). Consistent with this theme, the same program at the Nakamura-za in 5/1841 also featured yet another variation called Ura omote senbon zakura (The double-sided thousand cherry trees: 裏表千本櫻).
After the Dannoura no tatakai (Battle at Dannoura: 壇ノ浦の戦い) on April 25, 1185 in which Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-99, 頼朝) and his half brother Yoshitsune defeated the Taira (Heike) clan, Yoritomo, who would become the first shôgun of Japan, was unjustly suspicious of the brilliant military exploits of his younger brother. He refused to allow Yoshitsune entry into the headquarters in Kamakura, and instead sent him off to Horikawa in Kyoto. Yoritomo then secretly dispatched a warrior monk named Tosabô Shôshun and others to assassinate Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune and his warriors defeated the attackers and Tosabô was captured and beheaded by the legendary Musashibô Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶), the warrior priest and ally of Yoshitsune. Afterwards, Yoshitsune took flight from his brother, but was forced to commit seppuku (lit., "incision of the abdomen," or ritual suicide: 切腹) rather than face capture in a final battle at Koromogawa on May 16, 1189.
Yuri Hachirô (由利ハ郞), a samurai of the Fukui clan in Echizen, served Fujiwara no Yasuhira (藤原泰衡; 1155-1189; fourth ruler of the northern Fujiwara clan in Matsu province) in Yasuhira's fight against Yoritomo. Hachirô was wounded and captured by Usami Sanemasa, but another warrior, Amano Norikage, claimed credit, wanting the reward that would typically come with the capture of an important samurai. Yoritomo ordered Kajiwara Kagetoki to determine the truth. Kagetoki's interrogation of Hachirô was crude and insulting, pushing Hachirô into a defiant silence. When Kagetoki reported the incident to his master, Yoritomo concluded that Kagetoki had failed to show the proper respect for a captured warrior leader and replaced Kagetoki with Hatakeyama Shigetada, who used a more respectful and well-reasoned approach. Hachirô was placated and finally revealed that Usami Sanemasa was indeed his captor. Hachirô remained in Shigetada's custody for six days until Yoritomo pardoned him, forcing Hachirô to surrender his weapons and armor before ending his confinement.
Eda Genzô (江田の源蔵) was an ally of Yoshitsune who, upon hearing of the Horikawa yo uchi (night attack at Horikawa: 堀川夜討), returned to defend his lord. He took the heads of two enemies, giving them to Benkei to present to Yoshitsune. However, Tosabô shot an arrow that pierced Genzô's neck, mortally wounding him. Genzô made it back to Yoshitsune and died with his head pillowed on his master's knees.
On this print, Onoe Tamizô's name (尾上多見蔵) is preceded by the characters for kudari ("coming down": 下り), indicating that he has just left Kansai (the Kyoto-Osaka region) to perform in Edo. Tamizô II (1799-1886) had three sojourns in Edo during his long career, once in the 1820s and twice in the 1840s. The Kyoto-born and Osaka-based Tamizô, having just arrived in Edo from Osaka, used the occasion to display his versatility by playing eight different roles during the long program. The 5/1841 production at the Nakamura-za was particularly noteworthy because in addition to Tamizô, there were five other kudari actors. Kabuki fans would have flocked to the theater, curious to see all the visiting performers on one program.
Ichikawa Ebizô V (市川海老蔵) was an alternate geimei (stage name: 芸名) of the superstar Edo actor Ichikawa Danjûrô VII (1791-4/1859) from 1797 to 1807 and again from 1832 to 1859.
Kunisada's design is an excellent example of the portrayal of Osaka-based actors performing on the Edo stage.
References: KNP-6, p. 431