Gion sairei shinkôki (The Gion festival chronicle of faith: 祇園祭礼信仰記), a jidaimono ("period piece" or history play: 時代物) for bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽 also called jôruri 淨瑠璃), premiered in 12/1757 at the Toyotake-za in Osaka. The five playwrights were influenced by puppet plays written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (近松門左衛門 1653–1725), including Keisei hongonkô from 1708 and Honchô nijûshikô sankoku shi from 1719. Gion sairei shinkôki was a long-running hit that elevated the Toyotake-za temporarily to the pinacle of the puppet world, a welcome triumph for a theater that typically occupied second place behind its rival, the Takemoto-za. Kabuki's premiere was staged in 1758 at the Sawamura Somematsu-za in Kyoto.
The play, originally in five acts, is based on the Shinchôki or chronicle of the warlord and early unifier of Japan Oda Nobunaga (織田信長 1534–82), written by the physician and Confucian scholar Oze Hoan (小瀬甫庵 1564–1640). Hoan's work was an embellishment of (and more fictional than) the Shinchôkôki (also known as Shinchôki) by Ôta Gyûichi (太田牛一 pen name Ôta Matasuke Nobusada, 1527–1613), circa 1610. Gyûichi was a former retainer of Nobunaga and an observer of some of the events described in the chronicle.
In the dramatization, Konoshita Tokichi (木下藤吉) is a former loyal retainer of the shôgun Ashikaga Yoshiteru (1536–65), who hopes to free the shôgun's elderly mother, Keijuin, from Matsunaga Daizen, who has overthrown the shogunate and arranged for Yoshiteru's murder. The role of Daizen requires an actor who performs as both a katakiyaku (actor specializing in villain roles: 敵役) and also a kunikuzushi (actor as a thoroughly evil villain plotting to take over the country: 國崩). When Tokichi defeats Daizen at a game of go (碁), Daizen angrily tosses the go-counter box down a well and challenges Tokichi to retrieve it without getting his hands wet. Cleverly, Tokichi fills the well with more water and raises the box until he can lift it with the aid of a fan. He then presents the counter box on the go board to Daizen as if he were delivering a severed head.
Later, when Keijuin vows to die, Tokichi persuades her to live for the sake of her grandson, the new shôgun. Then a tachimawari (choreographed fight scene: 立回り) follows between Daizen and soldiers loyal to the shôgun. Daizen fights valiantly, so much so that he is given a temporary reprieve and allowed to confront Tokichi (now revealed to be Mashiba Hisayoshi (真柴久吉 the historical Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉 1536–98, Japan's second great unifier) on the battlefield.
Naniwa Nagakuni (浪花長國), active in Osaka circa 1816–21, was a pupil of Urakusai Nagahide (note the signature on our print, Nagahide monjin Nagakuni (長秀門人長國画) — "Nagakuni, pupil of Nagahide."
In the present scene, Tokichi, who is planning to rescue Keijuin and capture Daizen, stands by a flowering cherry tree, which he will climb after he fends off some of Daizen's samurai attackers.
This is our first offering of a Nagakuni print, which in this early example retains fresh color and overall very good condition. We have so far been unable to locate another impression of this rare design, which might be the left sheet of a diptych.
References: NKE, p. 127; KNP-6, p. 5
* Note on Chain lines: Handmade papers have visible lines, what in the West are called "chain lines" for the more widely spaced lines (about about 3 cm apart for papers used for ukiyo-e) and "laid lines" for the more closely spaced lines running perpendicular to the chain lines. We have noticed that these lines tend to be more visible in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century prints (both from Osaka and Edo) than in later Tokugawa-period and Meiji-period papers. The structure of the bamboo mesh or screen used in the papermaking to allow excess water to drain away imparted the chain and laid lines (linear depressions) into the finished papers. Sometimes, as the papers aged, weaknesses along these lines emerged. Thus it seems likely that certain handmade papers, given more time to age and react to variable environmental conditions, would yield more prominent lines than other, less aged paper.