The play was an adaptation of one of the most notorious double
suicide stories (shinjû-mono), this one involving the carpenter Rokusaburô and the courtesan Osono, inspired by an actual event
in 1749. (The Osaka citizenry was shocked by yet another death on the same day, when a prostitute was executed for murdering Osono's brother.)
The popular theatrical retelling also involves the theft of a precious scroll painting of a carp (koi). When Rokusaburô tracks
down the thieves and wrestles the scroll away from them, the carp comes to life and escapes. Shigeharu's print shows him trying to capture the carp, a scene
called koi no tsukamimono ("catching hold of the carp"). The play was performed in the summer, and real water was used on the stage (called mizuiri
or "in the water").
This dynamic design portrays Rokusaburô struggling with a giant carp along a rocky shoreline as the waves — drawn in a manner reminiscent of the
Edo master Katsushika Hokusai — crash about them. The actor Onoe Tamizô II (1799-1886), whose career of nearly 70 years bridged the Edo and Meiji
periods, was especially popular in the middle theaters (chû-shibai) such as the Wakadayû, where the present play was performed. Still in
his early thirties, Tamizô displays a lithe and athletic prowess that he would soon lose to obesity (later prints do not disguise his pudgy face and form).
The publisher Tenki apparently found this dramatic design worthy enough to include a cartouche with the names of the block cutter and printer (see
seal detail at right: hori Sada on the right; suri Nao on the left). Such a gesture was usually reserved for the better-executed kamigata-e.
References: IBKYS-II, no. 163; KNP-6, p. 255.