Sadanobu III (1881-1963; 三代目長谷川貞信) began as Konobu III (三代目小信). He worked principally in the shin hanga ("new prints" or neo-ukiyo-e: 新版画) manner, producing yakusha-e (pictures of actors: 役者絵), bunraku-ga (pictures of the puppet theater: 文楽画), and bijinga (pictures of beautiful women: 美人画) for the Kyoto publisher Uchida.
Yoshitsune senbon zakura (Yoshitsune and the thousand cherry trees: 義経千本桜) was written for the puppet theater by Takeda Izumo II, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Namiki Senryû and first performed at the Takemoto no Shibai, Osaka in 1747. The play involves various episodes from a historical tale highlighting the military conflicts between Heike and Genji (Taira vs. Minamoto) clans. The real Tadanobu is an ally of Lady Shizuka Gozen, the concubine of the celebrated warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) who is in flight from his half brother Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), Japan's military leader.
In the dramatization, Yoshitsune is forced to leave Shizuka, whereupon he gives her a hand drum as a keepsake. When she is attacked by a retainer of Yoritomo's, the fox-Tadanobu saves her. Yoshitsune observes this from a distance and gives the fox-impostor a suit of armor, thinking that he is entrusting Shizuka Gozen's safety to the real Tadanobu. But when she plays the drum, Tadanobu undergoes a metamorphosis and begins to dance, his movements animal-like, for the drum is made from the skins of his parents. Finally, all is revealed, and Yoshitsune gives Tadanobu the hand drum in appreciation of his loyalty. In one last act of loyalty, before returning to the animal world, the fox drives off six armed priests sent to assassinate Yoshitsune.
Sadanobu's print is titled Tsuzumi Tôta (Hand drum Tôta: 皷藤太). In the puppet play, Hayami no Tôta is a retainer for Tosabô Shôzon, who served Yoritomo. (Tosabô is killed at the end of Act 1 by Yoshitsune's celebrated ally, Musashibô Benkei.) At the beginning of Act 2, before the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Tôta confronts the dancer Shizuka Gozen, Yoshitsune's mistress, and attempts to steal Yoshitsune's prized hand drum (called "Hatsune"). When Tôta tries to kidnap Shizuka, Yoshitsune's retainer Satô Shirôbei Tadanobu suddenly appears, frees Shizuka, and recaptures the hand drum. Tôta and his men attack Tadanobu, but they are no match for the athletic and fierce warrior, who tosses them about the stage in an extraordinary display of strength. Furious with Tôta, Tadanobu crushes the life out of him. Having witnessed the fight and being much impressed with Tadanobu's loyalty and skill, Yoshitsune bestows a new name upon him — Minamoto Kurô Yoshitsune — informing him that he will take Yoshitsune's place in times of emergency (it would be a great honor to die in place of one's master on the battlefield). Yoshitsune also presents Tadanobu with a gift of a suit of armor. Shizuka keeps the hand drum and Tadanobu escorts her to Kyoto.
Sadanobu III's portrayal of a bunraku ningyô (puppet doll: 文楽人形) is particularly colorful and animated. Usually, original carved blocks are exceedingly rare. However, a number of Sadanobu III's blocks came on the market recently when the publisher Uchida cleared out some of its archives. So we are pleased to offer this timely opportunity to collect an original block and original print.
Waseda University, Tsubouchi Theater Museum, no. 201-1540
Stanleigh Jones, Jr., Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, pp. 96-99.