This print features a scene from Kasane ôgi hagi no Datezome (Kasane’s fan and bush clover in dyed Date colors, 重扇萩の伊達染), one of the various Kasane mono (plays about Kasane: 累物). The tale is based on actual events as well as legends from the 17th century involving an extremely jealous and "ugly" woman named Kasane whose husband Yoemon murders her at the Kinu River in Hanyû Village. In one version of the dramatization, after being disfigured by a vengeful ghost and then being murdered, her own spirit haunts family members until she achieves salvation through prayers offered by Saint Yûten. In a different adaptation, Kasane's spirit returns to possess another character. The ghost story became a significant work within the Edo-period genre of the ghost-story (kaidan-mono: 怪談物), with many playwrights, both in kabuki and the puppet theater, adapting the tale. Interestingly, virtually all retellings included the murder scene at the Kinu River.
The Edo superstar Onoe Kikugorô III (尾上菊五郎 1784-1849) specialized in ghost plays and roles featuring the supernatural. Hailed as a kaneru yakusha (all-around actor, 兼ねる役者) who could excel in any kind of role, he thrilled audiences with his abilities in hayagawari (quick-costume changes: 早替り) and hengemono (transformation pieces : 変化物) — crowd-pleasing tours de force in the kabuki repertoire. While never leaving the stage, Kikugorô could transform into as many as nine different characters in full view of the audience. Clothing with specially sewn, loosely basted threads was quickly pulled off or repositioned to reveal the costume for the next role. In effect, a single actor presents a series of dances in which the characters, ages, genders, occupations, voices, mannerisms, personalities, body language, and costumes all vary for each role.
For the play Kasane ôgi hagi no Datezome Kikugorô III performed at least six roles: Masaoka (政岡); Tetsunosuke (鐵の助); Nikki Naonori (二木直則 earlier called Akamatsu Hikoshirô, 赤松彦四郎); Motonobu (元信); Yoemon (與右衛門); and Kasane (かさね). [see ref. below.] In the large red cartouche at the top left in Sadanobu's design, Kikugorô is cited performing as Akamatsu Hikoshirô (赤松彦四郎) who later in the play is known as the magician Nikki Naonori (二木直則).
In the present scene, Nikki Naonori stares at a shinka (spirit flame, 神火) while conjuring magic, no doubt related to his plot against the Ashikaga shogunate.
Note: Akamatsu Hikoshirô (later called Nikki Naonori) appears as the villain Nikki Danjo (仁木弾正) in some of the other plays based on the same theme.
Our impression of Sadanobu's design has exceptionally well-preserved colors.
References: HSH, no. 83; KNP-VI,, p. 428