Kachidoki matsushima shinbutai (The Shout of Victory, a New Play at the Matsushima Theater, 勝鬨松島新舞台) was an adaptation of the tales about Akechi Mitsuhide (明智光秀, 1528-1582), a warlord defeated by Mashiba Hisayoshi (the historical Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 豊臣秀吉, 1537- 1598). It is one of the so-called Taikôki mono ("plays about the meritorious prince"), jidaimono (lit., "period piece" or historical drama: 時代物) concerning the civil wars of the late sixteenth century and the ascension of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (in this drama renamed Mashiba Hisayoshi), who ruled Japan from 1685 to 1603, until he was finally defeated by Tokugawa Ieyasu. (During the Edo period there were upwards of thirty puppet dramas on this theme. Add to that the kabuki variants and you have some idea of the widespread and persistent popularity of the tales.) Toyotomi, born of an undistinguished lineage as the son of a peasant foot-soldier named Yaemon, became a renowned warrior-general and politician. He is considered Japan's second great unifier in a series of three warlords — Oda Nobunaga (織田信長 1534-82), Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu (the first shogun in the Tokugawa lineage, 徳川家康 1543-1616) — who gradually unified Japan after nearly 140 years of civil war (c. 1467 - c. 1603; called the "Age of civil war," Sengoku jidai: 戦国時代).
Note: The Matsushima Theater (松島座) opened in 1872 in Nishi Ward, Osaka City, relocated from Kozu-bashi (Chuo Ward, Osaka City). That same year, it was renamed the Bunraku-za, taking its name from the lineage of puppet-theater managers starting with Uemura Bunrakuken (植村文楽軒 aka Masai Kahei 1737 [1751?]-1810), a puppeteer living at Awaji, who first operated a theater in 1805. It might seem strange that a puppet theater (ningyô jôruri-za or doll theater, 人形淨瑠璃) would be the site of a kabuki play, but following a slow decline in the fortunes of Bunraku (in no small measure due to the popularity of kabuki), there was no venue in Osaka dedicated exclusively to the puppets between 1780 and 1871. The staging of Kachidoki matsushima shinbutai was about the last kabuki play at the Matsushima-za, which thereafter dedicated itself exclusively to ningyô jôruri. Kabuki then continued its productions at the main theaters — the Kado, Naka, and Chikugo.
An array of cast members such as those found in this pentaptych would have appealed to many print collectors, most certainly those who were fans of kabuki as an art and entertainment form, rather than aficionados who were exceedingly loyal to, if not obsessed with, a particular star from the stage. Even so, the latter type of fan-club member would still often be interested in acquiring a design such as Yoshitaki's pentaptych for the sake of a memento of the entire cast in a successful production, as long as their beloved performer was included among the portraits.
Yoshitaki also produced a seven-sheet composition for this same staging (see MFA Boston, 11.35509a-g); Ikeda Bunko Library has but five of those sheets (IKBYS-V, no. 425).
Note: Three of the five sheets have censor seals, a distinct curiosity as they are rarely found on Osaka prints.
For more about this artist, see Yoshitaki Biography.
References: IKBYS-V, no. 423 (Z0455-423, 1-5); KNP-7, p. 175