In 1634 a real-life incident took place at Iga Ueno (in the area near Nagoya and Nara) in which Watanabe Shizuma (Kazuma) and his brother-in-law Araki Mataemon took their revenge on Kawai Matagorô (a retainer of the lord of Koremori). Matagorô's sin was his killing Watanabe's father Watanabe Yukie (who served Lord Tadao Ikeda of Okayama). Ultimately, Mataemon, who was a highly skilled swordsman, killed Matagorô and several others, becoming a legendary figure in the folklore of Japan. Having captured the imagination of the public, he was celebrated in bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽), kabuki, kôdan (oral narratives or spoken stories: 講談), and popular novels.
The Iga katakiuchi mono (plays about revenge killings at Iga: 敵討物) constitute one of the three most frequently performed stories, the others being Chûshingura mono (plays about the treasury of loyal retainers, or "Forty-seven rônin": 忠臣藏物) and Soga mono (plays about the Soga brothers: 曾我物). The first known kabuki staging of Iga katakiuchi mono took place in 1725 (Iga Ueno katakiuchi) in Osaka. Bunraku staged its first performance in 1776. Igagoe norikake gappa (1777) written by Nagawa Kamesuke, was premiered for bunraku in 1778, and presented for kabuki in Edo (1784) and Osaka (1793).
The standard version of these tales is the ten-act drama is Igagoe dôchû sugoroku (Crossing at Iga along a sugoroku journey: 伊賀越道中双六). It was scripted by Chikamatsu Hanj along with Chikamatsu Kasaku in the fourth month of 1783 for the Takemoto puppet theater, Osaka. It was quickly adapted for kabuki in the ninth month of the same year. In English, an early retelling was written by Algernon B. Mitford (Lord Redesdale, 1837-1916) in his Tales of Old Japan, where it is called "Kazuma's Revenge." For Igagoe dôchû sugoroku, in keeping with censorship edicts issued by the Tokugawa shogunate, the names, dates, and many details were altered for the various theatrical productions. For example, Watanabe Shizuma was changed to Wada Shizuma, and Kawai Matagorô was renamed Sawai Motogorô (as well as becoming a cousin of his enemy, Wada Shizuma).
Otani, shown here on the far right, is Shizuma's sister, and is married to Karaki Masaemon, an expert in the martial arts. The marriage is dissolved, however, to appease Otani's (and Shizuma's) father, Wada Yukie, who had never given his permisison for the union. Nevertheless, loyal to the Wada clan, Masaemon then joins in the vendetta and ultimately aids Shizuma in killing Matagorô and a few of his allies.
Of course, what one first notices in this horizontal ôban composition is the extraordinary perspective applied to the large room in the mansion. This is a type of uki-e ("floating pictures": 浮絵 or 浮繪), perspective (often exaggerated) pictures that were modeled after one-point vanishing perspective learned from the West. Uki-e are most unusual in kamigata-e, although similar treatments did appear slightly more often in Edo printmaking. Overall, this design has a feeling of experimentation in its horizontal orientation and the deeply receding perspective, evoking certain works by Edo artists, such as some interior and street scenes by Okumura Masanobu, Kitao Masayoshi, Utagawa Toyoharu, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kunisada, and Utagawa Hiroshige. Sadahiro's connection with Edo is known, as he studied with Kunisada in 1828, designed books in Edo in the 1830s, and issued occasional landscape prints in the manner of Hiroshige.
This is the same impression illustrated in OSP (by Dean Schwaab; see below), formerly in the Haber collection, New York. As is usual for prints once owned by Haber, the colors are beautifully preserved and the printing is excellent.
References: OSP, p. 176, no. 174; KNP-6, p. 323; IKB-I, p. 43, no. 1-500 (indicating the thrid month of 1836); NKE, pp. 211-214