This play Daikyôji mukashi goyomi (The almanac maker and the old almanac: 大経師昔暦), is based on a real-life scandal involving a case of adultery in 1683. The misadventure led to the death penalty for three people — Mohei, Osan and Otama — who were executed by crucifixion (Mohei, Osan) and beheading (Otama) on 9/22/1683 (on the lunar calendar). The story was recounted by Ibara Saikaku (井原西鶴 1642-93) in one of his tales from the 1680 novel Kôshoku gonin onna (Five women who loved love: 好色五人女). It was dramatized as a kantsû-mono (adultery play: 姦通物) for the puppet theater (Bunraku) by the great playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon ((近松門左衛門 1653-1725), premiering in Osaka at the Takemoto-za in 1715. The play was also adapted for kabuki, called simply Daikyôji (大経師), and staged in Osaka in 1/1715 as the kiri kyôgen (a single-act afterpiece following a multi-act historical play: 切狂言) of the New Year drama Kami ikusa shirushi no banjaku (神軍印磐石). The puppet drama was revived in 11/1740 in Osaka at the Takemoto-za, where it was presented under the new title Koi hakke hashira goyomi (戀八卦柱暦) to commemorate the 16th anniversary (17th memorial service) of the passing away of Chikamatsu Monzaemon. This title was reused in kabuki by the noted playwright Namiki Shôzô I (並木正三 1730–73) for his revision of Chikamatsu's drama, which was staged in 5/1762 in Osaka at the Kado Theater, Osaka.
In Daikyôji mukashi goyomi, Osan is the wife of a Kyoto scroll maker and almanac publisher named Ishun. She enlists the aid of Ishun's clerk Mohei to raise money for her mother. Mohei complies by foolishly using Ishun's seal to forge a document to obtain the money. He is caught and the theft is reported to Ishun. Mohei refuses to explain his behavior and is locked in a storehouse. A maid named Otama, who is in love with Mohei, comes forward and claims she was the one to ask Mohei for the money, whereupon she is ordered to stay in her room. Osan then learns of Otama's feelings for Mohei and also that her husband Ishun has been trying to seduce Otama. Osan switches places, hoping to catch Ishun. Soon after, Mohei frees himself from the storehouse and goes to Otama's room to thank her, not realizing in the dark that he is speaking with Osan. He then sleeps with Osan, only to be discovered by Ishun. The "accidental lovers" flee to Mohei's hometown in Tanba, but are captured and face execution as adulterers. They are saved, however, by the intervention of Tôgan Oshyô, chief priest of Osan's family temple, who pleads for mercy to the authorities.
In modern Japanese theater, Daikyôji mukashi goyomi is rarely if ever staged in its entirety, and even the final scene in which the lovers are saved from execution is usually omitted. Still, the main story remains popular. It was adapted for film in 1954 by the director Mizoguchi Kenji (溝口健二 1898-1956), distributed under the title Chikamatsu monogatari ("A Story from Chikamatsu": 近松物語). The film is typically referred to as "The Crucified Lovers," as in this version they are indeed executed. There was also a Japanese TV drama called Osan no koi (Osan's love: おさんの恋) in 1985.
The cast that performed in the staging portrayed by Yoshitaki was as follows: (1) Nakamura Jakuemon I (中村雀右衛門) as Zubora Denkichi (すぼら伝吉); (2) Jitsukawa Yaozô I (実川八百蔵) as Hamada Yajûrô (浜田弥十郎) and Jitsukawa Hokozô I (実川鯱蔵) as Head Clerk (Bantô) Kanpachi (番頭勘八); (3) Ogino Senjo I (荻野扇女) as the servant woman (gejo) Otama (下女お玉); (4) Sawamura Kunitarô III (沢村國太郎) as the bride (yome) Osan (嫁おさん); (5) Jitsukawa Gakujurô II (実川額十郎) as the clerk (tedai) Mohei (手代茂兵衛); and (6) Nakamura Komanosuke V (中村駒の助) as Utsuke no Sanshirô (うつけの三四郎.
Yoshitaki's hexaptych was published barely a year before the start of the Meiji period (1867-1912). It already hints at the bright colors associated with the Meiji palette for woodblock prints, in particular, the purple colorant, which was probably a synthetic dye (see note below *).
* Recent research has discovered that in 1864, the purple dye rosaniline [magenta] became the first synthetic dye to be used in full-color woodblock prints (nishiki-e), at first in combination with Prussian blue for a more bluish color. From 1875, it was usually mixed or replaced with methyl violet [an aniline dye] for a stronger purple. For a more detailed summary of this ground-breaking research and published references on synthetic, aniline, and natural colorants, see John Fiorillo's web page (Aniline Dyes in Meiji Nishiki-e).
References: IKBYS-V, no. 251; NKE, p. 69