Taira no Masakado (Soma no Kojirô, died 940) was a former general with the regent Fujiwarano Takahira who in the year 939 attempted to take control of the eight eastern provinces and declare himself emperor. Takahira's warriors defeated Masakado and later his son Soma Tarô. Theatrical dramatizations about Masakado typically feature supernatural happenings and transformations. Masakado could create ghostly clones of himself, and his castlein Soma near Sendai was said to be haunted by the spirits of his retainers. Both Soma Tarô and his sister Takiyashi-hime — the subject of the better known play Shinobi yoru koi wa kusemono (Appearing Concealed in the Guise of Love) premiering in 7/1836 in Edo — were also capable of sorcery. Takiyashi-hime takes the form of another human (a courtesan) and then, most famously, transfigures herself into a giant toad.
Otoko narikeri onna Masakado (What Men? A Female Masakado: 男哉婦将門) was an adaptation of the legend that premiered as a kaomise ("face showing" or introduction of actors for the new theatrical season: 顔見世) in 11/1801 at the Ichimura Theater, Edo.
In theatrical retellings, Tawara Tôda [Fujiwara no Hidesato 藤原秀郷] is a rônin (lit., "wave man," a masterless samurai: 浪人) despite also being the son of a councillor to the Emperor. Hidesato joins the Fujiwara in opposition to Masakado and in 940, decapitates the rebel after Taira no Sadamori wounds Masakado with an arrow. In another version, Masakado tries to trick Hidesato, an expert archer, into shooting arrows at the wrong targets by dressing five of his retainers as himself. [This strategem might have inspired the legend of Masakado's ability to make clones of himself.] Hidesato kills three of the retainers before his taunts draw out the proud Masakado and provide Hidesato with an opportunity to slay the rebel.
Hidesato is better known as the legendary Tawara Tôda ("Lord Bag of Rice"), a courageous warrior who walks across a fearsome dragon blocking the way across Seta Bridge in Ômi. The dragon then transforms into Oto-hime (Princess Oto; in some versions, it is her father wearing a crown), who reveals that she has waited on the bridge for days, hoping to meet a brave man who would rid her of a giant centipede called Mukade. The creature has destroyed her domain at Lake Biwa and forced her to live under the lake. Oto-hime takes him below the water to her palace, where they feast lavishly until the centipede appears. [In another version, the centipede curls itself seven times around Mikami Mountain.] Tôda wets his arrow with saliva, which is fatal to snakes and centipedes, and kills the monster. He is rewarded with a bale of rice that is never exhausted (hence his nickname) and with other magical gifts.
Another impression in the Ikeda Bunko collection (see reference below) lacks the inscriptions for the role and actor, has a color variation for the robes, and bears the seal of the publisher Iden (possibly indicating a somewhat later impression).
Standardized physiognomies (nigao or "likenesses": 似顔) used in Osaka yakusha-e often make it difficult to identify the artists for unsigned prints. This design is unquestionably an accomplished production, suggesting one of the established masters active during the early Tenpô period (1830-44).
References: IKBYS-II, no. 442