Suma no miyako Genpei tsutuji (Azaleas of the Minamoto and Taira clans in the capital at Suma: 須磨都源平躑躅) premiered as a ningyô jôruri (puppet play: 人形淨瑠璃) at the Takemoto Theater, Osaka in 1730; kabuki staged its first version in 1763. The dramatization was based on the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike clan: 平家物語) and Genpei seisuiki (Story of the rise and fall of the Heike and Genji during the Genpei wars) — chronicles about the pivotal struggle (1156-1185) between the Minamoto (Genji: 源) and Heike (平家, also called Taira, 平) clans ending at the battle of Dannoura in western Honshû.
The play serves as a prelude to the most famous individual confrontation in samurai legend — the slaying at Ichinotani of the fifteen-year-old Atsumori, son of a Taira general, by the Minamoto warrior Kumagai no Naozane, serving Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189). As it happens, Kumagai owes a debt of gratitude to Atsumori's mother, for she had saved Kumagai and his wife from execution 17 years earlier. Having no other way to honor his debt, Kumagai substitutes and sacrifices his own son for Atsumori. This shocking turn of events only delays the inevitable, however, and finally Kumagai must slay Atsumori at the battle of Ichinotani. Distraught at the loss of his son and his failure to save Atsumori, Kumagai renounces his allegiance to the Minamoto and takes the vows of a Buddhist monk.
Kunimasu portrays Kumagai in half length, boldly positioned to fill much of the left side of the sheet. He grasps a naginata (a halberd or lance with a curved blade, lit., "long sword": 長刀 or 薙刀)), while in the distance stands one of his allies, the Minamoto general Hirayama Sueshige (平山季重).
The red cartouche at the bottom right reads Shokoku meisho no uchi (From the famous places in all the provinces: 諸国名所之内), suggesting this might have been intended as one of a set or series, but no other examples have been recorded in the standard literature. Inscriptions within the adjacent cartouche patterned with purple clouds read Settsu Suma (Suma in Settsu province: 摂津須磨), the site of the action in the Genpei chronicles, and Kumagai Naozane (熊谷直実 the name of the role played by Tamizô II).
The image is placed asymmetically on the sheet, with the usual large margins on top and bottom, thus appearently full size; if there is any trimming, it would be minimal. Note that the actor is not named here, a lingering response to the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô reforms: 天保改革), which had banned the publication of actor prints from 1842-1847.
Horizontal (ôban yoko-e), especially those featuring half-length portraits, were always a rarity in Osaka printmaking, never more so than after the smaller chûban format came to dominate the post-Tenpô reform period beginning in early 1847. The high-quality of the printing (with metallic colorants, subtle gradations, and sprinkled gofun or shell powder), the dramatic pose of the actor Tamizô II, the splashing waves, and the severe receding perspective used in drawing the fortress walls all make this a very special work from the post-Tenpô period.
WB, no. XII-10; IKB-I, no. 1-558; Sadamasu website (van Doesburg)