The Edo artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) rocked the printmaking world in the late 1820s by creating the series Tsûzoku suikoden gôketsu hyakuhachinin no hitori (The 108 heroes of the Suikoden: 通俗水滸伝豪傑百八人之一個) in which he portrayed legendary Chinese action heroes. The figures filled the pictorial spaces dynamically, their expressive faces accentuating the individuality of each character. Moreover, the exotic costumes, the ersatz European-inspired chiaroscuro, the dazzling range of weaponry, the diversity of poses, and the commanding visual presence and bristling energy of the figures all helped fuel a Suikoden craze in Edo. Osaka, too, was enthralled by the Suikoden story and Kuniyoshi's vibrant prints.
Shigeharu was obviously aware of the Suikoden phenomenon, as he sketched and sized his figure in the Kuniyoshi manner. Even so, working as a kabuki artist, he substituted the nigao (likeness: 似顔) of an actor (Arashi Rikan II) for the generic facial types found in Kuniyoshi's designs. Moreover, the text in the cartouche is an extended paean to the Arashi Rikan acting lineage — past, present, and future.
The sort of massive figure filling the pictorial space in Shigeharu's print was rather uncommon in Osaka printmaking, although such works did appear infrequently in the 1810s–1820s.
The Waseda catalog provides transliterated Japanese for the text in the cartouche: 嵐璃寛三代の岡島屋．師の名をつぎて．日々に益壮なり．前に徳三郎と呼たる時俳名を璃☆といふ．璃は則玉なり．ふたつ合せて☆といひ．磨きあげたる芸の玉株．其光寛に．あたりまばゆく芝居の暗を照し．余光殊に輝けり．家の狂言は今古ニ独歩して．人の糟粕をねふらず．自から工夫の仕組新しく．看官驚かずといふ事なし 花笠外史漫賛。
Note: The artist Utagawa Yoshiume (a student of Kuniyoshi in Edo) modified Shigeharu's design around 1840 by changing the head, text, publisher identification (naming the district in Osaka, Shinsaibashi 心斎橋), and artist signature. The block carver then recut the original Shigeharu key block (the process is called ireki or "inserting wood," 入木). Also, new color blocks were used for the robes. The text changes included adding the title Honchô Suikoden no uchi (Series for the Suikoden in this realm: 本朝水滸傳之内). The figure is also named — Takenouchi Daiju Sukune (武内大臣宿祢), a legendary statesman who served five emperors, most notably as Grand Minister to the Regent Jingu.
This impression comes from the much-admired Martin Levitz collection, New York City. Some of the Levitz prints were used to illustrate Schwaab's Osaka Prints (1989).
References: WAS 4-407; SDK, no. 516 and 568