Kabuki and puppet plays about the priest Seigen and his lust for Princess Sakura (Sakura-hime) are categorized as Seigen Sakura-hime mono (Works about Seigen and Princess Sakura: 清玄桜姫物). Seigen, who was a morally upright priest at the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, becomes obsessed with the beautiful Sakura-hime, so much so that, in some dramatizations, he flees the temple to live in a hermitage. It does little to quell his lust. In more than one version of the denouement, Sakura reunites with Seigen, who is later slain by her servant. Even so, Seigen's spirit continues to haunts her.
There were many adaptations of the story in Edo theaters, but far fewer in Kamigata, although the role of Seigen became a specialty of the Nakamura Utaemon line of actors who were based in Kamigata. Also, the great playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725) did write Isshin niga no byakudô (One heart, two rivers, and the white path: 一心二河白道) in 1698 for the Mandayû Theater in Kyoto, wherein Sakura-hime dies but is brought back to life as a reward for her devotion to the goddess Kannon of the Kiyomizu Temple. The "Niga Byôkudô" of the play title refers to a very narrow path that one must travel between the River of Fire and the River of Water on the way to paradise. In this version Seigen is an acolyte at Kiyomizu who becomes besotted with Sakura-hime.
The role played by Nakamura Shikan II (1796-1852; later Utaemon IV), the adopted son of the superstar actor Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838), was particularly apt, for Keisei iriai zakura (Courtesan: Cherry blossoms at sunset: けいせい入相桜) was written in 1835 by Utaemon III under his penname Kanazawa Ryûgoku. The zukura in the play title refers, of course, to Sakura-hime. Although they are not named, the women in the background would have been the actors Nakamura Matsue IV as Sakura-hime and Nakamura Tomijûrô II as Tsumaki, who took on these roles in 1/1835. However, although at first glance it would seem unusual for an actor of Matsue IV's stature not to be named on a print from this period, the women's physiognomies are not actual nigao (likenesses: 似顔), and thus they are meant to serve as generic stand-ins for the two female roles. This is a highly unusual yakusha-e (actor picture: 役者絵), a hybrid portrayal mixing nigao and non-portrait style for the physiognomies. Sadly, this was to be the final performance for Matsue IV, who died the following month on the 15th of February 1835.
This is a dramatic portrayal of Shikan II (later Utaemon IV) as Seigen, who sank into depravity as his desire for Sakura-hime reduced him to a beggarly state. The contrast between the tattered figure of Seigen filling the left half of the pictorial space and the emotionally spent Sakura-hime being comforted by her maid in the middle distance is effectively rendered.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 170; KNZ, no. 402; KNP-6, p. 297; NKE, pp. 226 and 562