The text of Keisei ômonguchi (Courtesans at the great gate of the pleasure quarter: : 契情廓大門 also written as けいせい廓大門) has apparently not survived, but it seems to be an adaptation of Ômonguchi yoroi kasane (written by Namiki Sôsuke in 12/1743, which premiered at the Ônishi Theater in Osaka). The drama features a complicated saga in which Shôkurô plots against Shinkurô, the murderer of his father, and wherein some of the characters take on disguises and false identities during the intrigues fueling the plot twists.
Onoe Tamizô II (1799-1886; 二代目尾上多見蔵), the son of a theater hairdresser, was a skillful dancer and versatile actor. He had a long and successful career. When he was barely 20 years of age, Tamizô began an apprenticeship with Onoe Kikugorô III (1784-1849; 三代目 尾上菊五郎) in Edo for three years, then returned to Osaka in 1823. (He had several sojourns in Edo thereafter.) In Osaka he was championed by a coterie of artists in Osaka in the mid 1820s, led by Gatôken (Toryûken) Shunshi, who specialized in depicting him in many performances. Early on he worked mostly the middle theaters in Osaka, but by 1833, he was also appearing in the larger theaters, such as the Kado and Naka. Tamizô tended to be a flamboyant showman and was short, overweight, and reputedly illiterate. (His weight problem is evident in portraits issued later in his career, as in the print being offered here.) Nevertheless, Tamizô was a notable actor on the Osaka stage for more than 60 years.
Two things strike us as unusual about this composition. First, the full-frontal positioning of the body as Tamizô strikes his mie ("display: 見得) and stares back at the audience. Second, the enormous teppô (gun or musket: 鐵砲), a term, by the way, that was also slang for a low-ranking prostitute or for a cheap brothel. Guns were not often depicted in ukiyo-e. Firearms in the form of matchlocks (ignited by a match), called tanegashima, were introduced into Japan by the Portuguese in 1543, and by 1560, guns were being used in large samurai battles. Firearms dramatically changed the nature of war, as unskilled, non-samurai fighters could be deployed en masse. In 1575, at Nagashino, 3,000 of Lord Oda Nobunaga's (1534-82) conscripted peasants hid with muskets behind wooden posts and devastated the enemy's cavalry charge. Later, however, on August 29, 1588, Nobunaga's successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536/37-1598 豊臣秀吉), banned possession of swords and firearms by the non-samurai classes, in effect, a civilian disarmament edict. After Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616; 徳川家康) officially established the Tokugawa shogunate (or Tokugawa bakufu 徳川幕府) in 1603, and especially after the siege of Osaka Castle in 1614-15, firearms served a limited military purpose during roughly 250 years of relative peace in Japan. During all this time, the firearm was never viewed by the Japanese as the equal of the katana (sword: 刀), whose manufacture, purpose, and aesthetics were emblematic of the aristocratic samurai class. Firearms were thought to be undignified, lacking the grace and honor associated with swords in combat. It is perhaps for this reason that the vast majority of samurai prints with weapons focus on the katana.
There is a satisfying balance to Yoshitaki's composition, with the diagonal of the "hand-canon" balanced by Tamizô's left arm, and the lower skirt and tassles echoing this counterpoise. Overall, this is one of Yoshitaki's more compelling designs in chûban format from the early 1860s, before the introduction of aniline dyes.
For another design by Yoshitaki for this same performance, see YST23.
References: IKBYS-5, p. 39, no. 140