The plot of Kikuzuki irifune monogatari (菊月入船噺) is unknown to us, but it is one of the so-called Kasane mono (plays about Kasane: 累物). The tale is based on actual events as well as legends from the 17th century involving an extremely jealous and "ugly" woman named Kasane whose husband Yoemon murders her at the Kinu River in Hanyû Village. In one version of the legend, her vengeful ghost haunts various family members until she achieves salvation through prayers offered by Saint Yûten. In another adaptation, Kasane's spirit returns to possess another of Yoemon's wives. The ghost story became a significant work within the Edo-period genre of the ghost-story (kaidan-mono: 怪談物), with many playwrights, both in kabuki and the puppet theater, adapting the tale. Interestingly, virtually all retellings included the murder scene at the Kinu River.
Both roles were performed by the Edo superstar Onoe Kikugorô III (尾上菊五郎) as a hayagawari (quick-costume changes: 早替り). While never leaving the stage, Kikugirô transformed into different characters in full view of the audience. Clothing with specially sewn, loosely basted threads was pulled off or repositioned to reveal the costume for the next role. It was an example of a hengemono (transformation piece: 変化物), which presents a series of dances performed by a single actor who takes on the roles, ages, genders, occupations, voices, mannerisms, personalities, body language, and costumes of different stage roles.
Kunihiro has portrayed the murder scene at the Kinu River, the most widely shared dramatic moment among the many Kasane mono.
This particular kabuki production caught the attention of the Edo master artist Utagawa Kunisada I, who happened to be touring in Kamigata with the Edo superstar actors Matsumoto Kôshirô V, Bandô Mitsugorô III, and Iwai Hanshirô V (the Iwai Hanshirô line of actors made a specialty of the Kasane role). Kunisada designed a print for this 7/1820 staging depicting Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Komagata Kuranoshin (駒形蔵之進). The sheet is inscribed, "Now at the Kado Theater in Dôtonbori, Osaka (当時大坂道頓堀角の芝居ニ而相勤申候).
Other roles in the play included Onoe Kikugorô III as Kanô Shirôjirô, Arashi Denpachi I as Ibaraki Monbei, and Arashi Koroku IV as the courtesan (keisei) Tôyama (depicted in a diptych by Shunkôsai Hokushû), plus Kikugorô III in yet another role, Fuwa Banzaemon (不破伴左衛門) — see KUH43.
*** Also, compare the physiogmonies of the actor Kikugorô here and in KUH43 (where there is further commentary on the differences).
The colors in this impression are nearly pristine, unusual for a print of this period.
References: IBKYS-II, no. 11; SDK, no. 322; Musuem of Fine Arts, Boston (49.1287 for the Kunisada print; 11.35443-44 for the diptych by Hokushû); NKE, pp. 286-87.