The Iga katakiuchi mono (plays about revenge killings at Iga: 敵討物) constitute one of the three most frequently performed stories, the others being Chûshingura mono (plays about the treasury of loyal retainers, or "Forty-seven rônin": 忠臣藏物) and Soga mono (plays about the Soga brothers: 曾我物). The first known kabuki staging of Iga katakiuchi mono took place in 1725 (Iga Ueno katakiuchi) in Osaka. Bunraku staged its first performance in 1776. Igagoe norikake gappa (The horse advance through Iga Pass: 伊賀越乗掛合羽) written in 1777 by Nagawa Kamesuke premiered for bunraku in 1778; it was later staged for kabuki in Edo (1784) and Osaka (1793).
In 1634, a real-life incident occurred at Iga Ueno (in the area near Nagoya and Nara) in which Watanabe Shizuma (Kazuma) and his brother-in-law Araki Mataemon took their revenge on Kawai Matagorô (a retainer of the lord of Koremori). Matagorô's sin was the killing of Watanabe Shizuma's father Watanabe Yukie (who served Lord Tadao Ikeda of Okayama). Ultimately, Mataemon, who was a highly skilled swordsman, killed Matagorô and several others, becoming a legendary figure in the folklore of Japan. Having captured the imagination of the public, he was celebrated in bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽), kabuki, kôdan (oral narratives or spoken stories: 講談), and popular novels.
The standard adaptation of these tales is the ten-act drama called Igagoe dôchû sugoroku (Crossing at Iga along a sugoroku journey: 伊賀越道中双六). It was scripted by Chikamatsu Hanji along with Chikamatsu Kasaku in the fourth month of 1783 for the Takemoto puppet theater, Osaka. It was quickly adapted for kabuki in the ninth month of the same year. In English, an early retelling was written by Algernon B. Mitford (Lord Redesdale, 1837-1916) in his Tales of Old Japan, where it is called "Kazuma's Revenge." For Igagoe dôchû sugoroku, in keeping with censorship edicts issued by the Tokugawa shogunate, the names, dates, and many details were altered for the various theatrical productions. For example, Watanabe Shizuma was changed to Wada Shizuma, and Kawai Matagorô was renamed Sawai Motogorô (as well as becoming a cousin of his enemy, Wada Shizuma).
Sasaki Tan'emon (佐々木丹右衛門) is the emissary (shisha: 使者) of Lord Uesugi who is maneuvering to gain favor with the shogun. In the conflicts that ensue, Tan'emon does not survive.
This appears to be a rather uncommon design. We have found only two other copies, one in the large Konan Women's University collection in Kobe, Japan, and one in the British Museum, London (see refs. below). Otherwise, it is not included in the published catalogues of the two largest repositories of Osaka prints in Japan, the Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka and the Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum, Tokyo. It is also absent from their online databases.
This impression comes from the Martin Levitz Collection (New York), a fine assemblage of Osaka prints, some of which were illustrated in Dean Schwaab's Osaka Prints (New York: Rizzoli, 1989).
References: WAS-IV, no. 333 (chirimengami edition); KNZ, no. 419; British Museum, London, no. 1983,0523,0.1.70