Meiboku sendai hagi (Sandalwood and bush clover of Sendai: 伽羅先代萩) dramatized the intriques over succession within the Date clan of Sendai during the third quarter of the seventeenth century. It was performed in an alternate sekai ("world" or theatrical setting: 世界), set back in time during the Onin civil war under the Ashikaga shogunate of the fifteenth century (Ashikaga thus becomes a theatrical substitute for the Date clan name). It is a classic play, so popular that during the Edo period it had at least one performance nearly every year since its premiere in 1777. The fictionalized central story involved Lord Ashikaga Yorikane's forays into the pleasure quarter and his murder of the courtesan Takao (高尾). This episode is an amplification of an actual incident in which the twenty-one-year-old clan leader Date Tsunamune became the lover of the Yoshiwara courtesan Takao, causing a scandal that led to his downfall. Another story line involves Nikki Danjô (Yorikane's evil nephew), the orchestrator of a conspiracy to overthrow Yorikane. The intrigue failed, however, and Nikki was slain.
This is a very good example of Yoshikuni's earlier style of actor likenesses applied specifically to the actor Hyakutarô, primarily a performer in the chû-shibai (middle theaters: 中芝居); he died young, at age 30, in the seventh month of the year in which Yoshikuni's portrait was completed.
Provenance: This impression is from the Haber Collection (although not illustrated in Schwaab, Osaka Prints, 1989). Prints from this collection are admired for their fine color preservation, and often for their rarity, as with this design.
References: IBKYS-I, no. 347; NKE, p. 394