Koi Musubu Uchiwa no Datehimo (恋取組団伊達紐) appears to be a reworking of the well-known Meiboku Sendai hagi, a play dramatizing the intrigues over the succession within the Date clan of Sendai during the third quarter of the seventeenth century. Meiboku is a classic play, so popular that during the Edo period it had at least one performance nearly every year after its premiere in 1777. The drama spawned a number of adaptations, as in the Koi Musubu Uchiwa no Datehimo production at the Ichimura-za in 1/1862. All these plays have been categorized as Date sôdô mono (Date family-troubles plays) featuring various retellings of sagas involving the Date (伊達) clan of Sendai in Ôshû, beginning in the 1660s. Some of the theatrical dramatizations had fantastical subplots, such as the one involving the usurper Nikki Danjo (仁木弾正), endowed with magical powers, who plots to overthrow the clan leader Ashikaga (a theatrical substitute for the Date clan name) Yorikane.
In kabuki parlance, the role type for Nikki Danjo is known as jitsuaku ("real villains": 実悪) — unrepentant evil samurai who conspire to overthrow their lords. They are also referred to as kuni kuzushi ("demolisher of nations": 國崩し) to signify their intention to usurp an emperor's throne or a daimyô's domain. Ultimately, Nikki is foiled in his intrigue and slain.
Nikki Danjo possessed the ability to turn himself into a giant rat as a way of disguising himself. Some prints depict Nikki as the ghostly rodent, often holding in his mouth a scroll containing a list that reveals the names of the conspirators planning to wrest power from Yorikane. Nikki's adversary was Arajishi Otokonosuke, who is typically portrayed, as in Kunisada's print, raising a metal folding fan as he prepares to strike the rodent Nikki.
* Note the unusual signature. In one interpretation, when the characters for the numbers seven, ten, and seven (七十七) are combined in a manner such as this (at the top of the signature cartouche), and then used with the character ô (old: 翁), they may be read as ki-ô ("old with happiness": 喜翁). Moreover, the seventy-seventh year (kiju, 喜寿) was celebrated because this archaic form of writing the character ki (with the 七十七 grouping) also suggested good fortune.
- See our Kunisada I Biography.
- Also see https://viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/ukiyoe/kunisada.html.
- There is also a website devoted to Kunisada: http://www.kunisada.de/index.htm.
There are many publications on the works of Kunisada. A good introduction in English is by Sebastian Izzard (with essays by J. Thomas Rimer and John Carpenter): Kunisada's World. New York: Japan Society in collaboration with Ukiyo-e Society of America, 1993.