Igagoe mono were a popular series of plays in the puppet and kabuki theaters, dramatizing one of Japan's three celebrated tales of revenge
(the other two theatrical groupings being the Chûshingura mono and Soga mono). The inspiration for the Igagoe mono lay in an
actual vendetta that took place in 1634 at Iga Ueno (between Nagoya and Nara), when Watanabe Kazuma and his brother-in-law, Araki Mataemon (a skilled swordsman), sought
vengence against Kawai Matagorô, the murderer of Kazuma's father, Watanabe Yukie. One of the standard versions of the tale was Igagoe dôchû sugoroku (Crossing at Iga along a sugoroku journey: 伊賀越道中双六), written in ten acts by Chikamatsu Hanji and Chikamatsu Kasaku for the ningyô jôruri (puppet theater: 人形淨瑠璃) in 1783, premiering at the Takemoto Theater. (A kabuki version was staged in 1793 at the Naka Theater in Osaka.)
The dramatization changes the names but retains the original story in its broad strokes. After various intrigues and complicated plot twists, Wada Shizuma takes his revenge at Iga Pass against his cousin Sawai Matagorô, who had tricked him into pawning a family heirloom sword (resulting in Shizuma's being disinherited) and murdered his father, Wada Yukie. Gofukuya Jûbei, the subject of the present print, is a dry goods merchant and an ally of Matagorô; he also carries a powerfuly effective medicine for curing injuries that belongs to Matagorô. At one point, he encounters a beautiful young woman names Oyone, who happens to be Shizuma's lover and, unknown to each of them at first, Jûbei's sister. Thus, Jûbei is faced with an untenable conflict of loyalties. Oyone and their father (Heisaku) are tracking down Matagorô and realize that Jûbei might lead them to the villain. Jûbei knows this, but when his father commits suicide to pressure him for the information, Jûbei divulges the whereabouts of Matagorô. He also allows them to give the medicine to Shizuma, who has gone blind, in the hope that he might then be obligated to the man whose medicine cured him. Shortly before the final vendetta scene, Shizuma slays Jûbei, who asks that Shizuma care for his sister Oyone. The play culminates in a tachimawari ("standing and going around," i.e., choreographed fight scenes: 立回り) in which the two adversaries and their cohorts engage in a bloody fight and Shizuma kills Matagorô.
The sugoroku (double sixes) in the play title refers to a game played with a single die and counters in which the winner is the first player to reach the goal (agari) from the starting point (furidashi) on a game board. In some versions, various types of routes or paths were featured, particularly (as in another character in the play title, dôchû or "on the road"), which were picture-map types. One familiar example was based on the fifty-three stations of the Tôkaidô (gojûsan-tsugi sogoroku) illustrated on woodblock-printed paper, where players attempted to reach Kyoto in the center from Edo at the outer edge.
Arashi Kitsusaburô I (Rikan I; 1769-9/1821) is shown in a performance from 9/1818, although the print was issued later, possibly in 1821 shortly before or at the time of his death in the ninth month. The lacquered mirror is decorated with tachibana (Mandarin orange: 橘), Rikan's crest, and the stand with the first part of his yagô (shop or house name: 屋号), Oka (岡) for Okajima-ya. One of the make-up brushes also bears the initial character of his earlier acting name, Kichi (吉) for Kichisaburô. The stack of books at the lower right are a five-volume set of the play Igagoe dôchû sugoroku.
References: KNZ, no. 77; TWOP, no. 19 and cover; NKE, p. 211