Kanadehon chûshingura (Copybook of the Treasury of Loyal Retainers; often called simply The Forty-seven Rônin) was a perennial
favorite in the kabuki theater and is still performed today. Okaru was betrothed to Hayano Kanpei, a young retainer of Enya Hangan (a provincial
daimyô) who was forced into ritual suicide (seppuku) after a confrontation with the malicious Kô no Moronao (a chief councilor
to the Shogun). To raise money for a vendetta against Moronao — led by Oboshi Yuranosuke — Okaru's father sells her into prostitution (called miura, "selling human life").
In the present scene from Act VII, at the Ichiriki Teahouse, Okaru's brother, Heiemon, prepares to kill her after mistakenly believing that
Yuranosuke will sacrifice Okaru to protect the contents of a secret letter that she has read, fearing she will compromise the plot. As a faithful brother
Heiemon cannot let a stranger take her life, and yet he must also demonstrate his loyalty to the rônin cause, even if she is his sister. When Okaru also learns that her
beloved Kanpei has committed seppuku, she despairs and prepares to kill herself. Fortunately Yuranosuke intervenes, preventing her death and
accepting Heiemon into the rônin conspiracy.
Shigeharu's design is animated by the papers flying across the sheets. Heiemon raises his long sword as Okaru assumes one of the conventional defensive
postures often taken by female characters when confronting standing male adversaries. As she leans backward she lifts her sleeve to hide her face.
Note the obi (sash) tied in front instead of behind, a style typically used by courtesans. Her kimono pattern features cherry blossoms (sakura).
Okada Isajiro (岡田伊三次郎), a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its gradual dispersal starting in the year 2000, a blockbuster event
in the world of kamigata-e; see KAM)
References: WAS I-4, no. 433; IKB-I, no. 469; KNP-6, p. 229; TWOP, no. 312; NKE, p. 271.