The play Keisei somewake tazuna (A courtesan's reins dyed in different colors: けいせい染分總), written by Nagawa Harusuke and the superstar actor Nakamura Utaemon III (under his pen name Kanazawa Ryûgyoko), premiered in 1/1822. It has been reported that the accomplished dramatist Harusuke became so enraged at what he believed to be a poorly constructed play that he attacked his co-writer Utaemon with a knife. The play was adapted, as were quite a number of other plays, from Koi nyôbô somewake tazuna (Love and a wife's reins dyed in different colors: 恋女房染分手綱) first staged in 1751. The earlier play was itself a revision of Chikamatsu Monzaemon's 1707 puppet drama Tanba Yosaku matsuyo no komuro-bushi (丹波与作待夜の小室節 first adapted by Kabuki in 1708 as Tanba no Yosaku, 丹波与作 or "Yosaku from Tanba"), which it mostly follows while adding a subplot involving the Yurugi daimyô (military lord: 大名). As such, the diversion is an adauchi-mono (vendetta play: 仇打ち物) in the style of jidaimono (history plays, lit., "period pieces": 時代物) adapted from Chikamatsu's sewamono (domestic dramas, lit. "everyday pieces": 世話物).
The story involves a shop owner and his older brother who stop conspirators from stealing the treasures of the Yurugi daimyô family, and features Sankichi, a tabakokiri (tobacco cutter: 煙草切), who emerges as the hero of the drama. The main theme involves Shigenoi, a lady-in-waiting at the Yurugi estate who is having an affair with Date Yosaku, a retainer to Saemon Yurugi, daimyô of Tanba. Yurugi gives him 300 ryô (gold coins) to ransom Iroha, a geisha in Gion, but the money is stolen by another retainer named Sagizuka Kandayû. (In the original Chikamatsu's version, Yosaku is a profligate who gambles away the money.) Shigenoi and Yosaku have had a child together, but their illicit relationship threatens to end in her exile or death until her father, a Nô actor, performs Dôjôji in which he commits seppuku (ritual suicide) to atone for his daughter's crime. Yurugi is moved by the performance and allows Shigenoi to remain as wet nurse (menoto, 乳人) to his infant daughter Shirabe-hime, although she is separated from her son and Yosaku is banished. He is then compelled to earn a living as a pack-horse driver. The play continues well into later years when Iroha, who changes her name to Seki no Koman (Koman from Seki), and falls in love with Yosaku. He is given 300 ryô by his brother-in-law (a blind masseur named Keimasa) and, by chance, is reunited with his son, called Jinejo no Sankichi, also a pack-horse driver (mago, 馬子). Much later, Yosaku and Sankichi (by then called Yonosuke) defeat the villains who by this time had slain Keimasa and, finally, Yosaku is welcomed back into the Yurugi household, where he lives with Shigenoi as his wife and Koman as his mistress.
This scene from the permiere of the play features an enormous serpent — a marvel of theatrical fantasy — which dwarfs and threatens the actors. The eye of the serpent has been in-painted with a glossy yellow pigment that is original to the edition (not added later; see image at right).
In recent years ukiyo-e prints depicting supernatural beasts have become very popular and the competition to acquire them has increased dramatically.
For a different design of this same scene, also from the 1/1822 premiere, see Hokushû (HKS11).
References: IKBYS-I, no. 340