Yoshitsune no koshigoe-jô (Yoshitsune's Koshigoe petition:義經腰越状), a five-act jidaimono ("period pieces" or history plays: 時代物) written by Namiki Eisuke for the puppet theater (bunraku or ningyô jôruri), premiered at the Takemoto no Shibai, Osaka in 7/1754. It was an adaptation of at least two earlier plays, Nanbantetsu Gotô no menuki (1735) and Yoshitsune shin fukumijô (1744). Controversy surrounded the first performance when Act IV was banned because the portrayal of Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝, 1147-1199) was considered too suggestive of the actual reigning shôgun. Thus the act was dropped and only the first three were premiered; then, in 1770, Act IV was revised by Toyotake Ôtsu.
Typical for Edo-period theatricals, the plot was placed back in a distant era to avoid censorship. Thus, multiple sekai ("world" or theatrical setting: 世界) were implied. In this instance the setting was the Kamakura period (1192-1333), while the protagonists were meant to suggest analogues of Edo-period figures. For example, Yoshitsune stood in for Toyotomi Hideyori (豊臣 秀頼, 1593-1615) and Yoritomo for the first shôgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康, 1543-1616). Events were intended to echo the overthrow of Osaka Castle in 1615 by Ieyasu. The inaugural kabuki version premiered in 1761 at the Arashi no Shibai, Osaka; Edo waited nearly three decades before its first adaptation in 1790 at the Ichimura-za.
The action involves Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経, 1159-1189), the brilliant young general of the Minamoto (Genji: 源) clan whose miltary exploits near the end of the Genpei Wars (1160-1185) changed the course of Japanese history. His younger half brother and ruler of Kamakura, Yoritomo, became suspicious of Yoshitsune, believing some of his actions treasonous. He sent his forces to capture or kill Yoshitsune, eventually forcing his younger brother to commit seppuku (suicide: 切腹). The historical record is inconclusive regarding the causes of the rift between the two brothers, but posterity has judged Yoritomo harshly, charging him with overweening ambition and a suspicious nature. There is a "Koshigoe Letter" or petition in which Yoshitsune denounced the slander leveled at him and declared his loyalty to the Minamoto and Yoritomo. In the play, Yoshitsune is estranged from Yoritomo after the latter's ally and spy Kajiwara Heizô no Kagetoki (梶原平三景時, c.1140-1200) spreads lies about Yoshitsune's intentions. Having fled from the village of Koshigoe to the Horikawa mansion, Yoshitsune delays further flight from the dangers posed by Yoritomo's fast-approaching army and gives himself over obsessively to the "sparrow dance" (suzume odori), much to the displeasure and concern of his faithful retainers.
Gotôbei, once a retainer of Kiso [Minamoto] no Yoshinaka (源義仲, 1154-1184), became a rônin ("wave man" or masterless samurai: 浪人) after Toshinaka's defeat by Yoritomo. He supports himself as a maker of menuki (sword-handle ornaments: 目貫) in Fushimi village, but appears to be an incorrigible drunkard. In reality, his depravity is a ruse to misdirect conspirators within Yoshitsune's ranks. After his true nature is revealed, Gotôbei agrees to serve as Yoshitsune's strategist and raise an army to fight Yoritomo. The role of Gotôbei is much admired in the kabuki repertory, as the actor must display progressive drunkenness until his transformation into an upstanding warrior.
In Hirosada's design, Gotobei is serving as a sumô referee while Kabu Nobusuke and Kabu Ichihei wrestle one another. Kabu Nobusuke uses a technique called susotori (ankle pick: 裾取).
Given the two artist signatures, this is likely an uncut chûban diptych; the centerfold probably indicates it was once in an album of chûban designs. Note the exceptionally large preserved margin at the far left.
We have so far located only one other impression (see below).
References: Ritsumeikan University, arcUP2490; NKE, p. 707