Imoseyama premiered in 1771 as a puppet play. It dramatizes historical events leading to the establishment of one of Japan's great
families, the Fujiwara, and in particular the victory of its founder Fujiwara [Nakatomi] no Kamatari (614-669) over Soga no Iruka in 645.
In the play Iruka is born by supernatural means after his mother drinks the warm blood of a white stag. He attempts to usurp the power of the
emperor, intimidating daimyô as if casting a spell to prevent them from entering into alliances with the imperial family. The
fisherman Fukashichi is actually Kanawa Imakuni [Kanawa no Gorô], a retainer of Iruka's enemy Fujiwara Kamatari. Fukashichi —
posing as a messenger — visits Iruka at his mansion on Mount Mikase to present him with a gift of sake from Kamatari and false
assurances that he accepts Iruka's sovereignty. Iruka is suspicious of Kamatari's offer, believing the sake to be poisoned. Fukashichi
drinks it to prove its purity, but Iruka has him arrested. Fukashichi survives two attempts on his life while in custody, living on to defeat
Iruka's retainers and join Kamatari and others to assassinate Iruka. The final scene of retribution features Fukashichi breaking
Iruka's magic spell by playing a flute containing the blood of a sacrificed and very jealous woman named Omiwa, which sends Iruka into
Yoshikuni has depicted Fukashichi's visit to the Mikase mansion, which Iruka had built on a scale to rival an imperial palace. Iruka is celebrating
the completion of construction with a splendid banquet when Fukashichi arrives. The role calls for a powerful aragoto-style performance,
with several impressive mie, as shown here.
The cutting of the blocks to simulate woodgrain on the stairs is most impressive. The seal below the two publisher's marks on each sheet
reads suri Kinji ("printed by Kinji" — see detail at right).
There was a later edition of Yoshikuni's design with recut blocks for a performance in 4/1826 featuring different actors (see OSP
in the Bibliography). Our impression is earlier than the one in Ikeda Bunko (see IKBYS-I in the Bibliography).
References: IKBYS-I, no. 317; OSP, no. 90; KNP-6, p. 77; IKB-I, no. 1-413; NKE, p. 217; BRH, p. 176