Kamakura sandaiki (Chronicle of three generations in Kamakura: 鎌倉三代記) was a jidaimono ("period piece" or history play: 時代物) written originally for the puppet theater. It chronicles in an updated fashion events linked with the fall of Osaka Castle in 1615, but set back in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) to avoid the Tokugawa shogunate's censorship of staging recent historical events involving the ruling samurai class. This drama has Sasaki Takatsuna, a general in the Genji clan, engaged in fighting the Heike at the battle for Sakamoto Castle. The tale features disguises and assassination plots, and ultimately Takatsuna's own suicide after he mistakenly beheads a Heike princess sympathetic to the Genji (by virtue of her engagement to a young Genji warrior named Sakamoto Miuranosuke).
Rikan strikes an expressive mie before a large pine tree under a black night sky. Note that his spear (naginata: 長刀 or 薙刀) has pierced the tree at the top left. Rikan holds a black-lacquer folding fan (ôgi: 扇) with a red sun, symbol of Japan and also closely associated with samurai in combat. This design probably depicts the scene in which Takatsuna tries to persuade Miuranosuke to return to battle.
Prints from Ise (伊勢) venues are very rare. Sometimes Osaka actors (and less frequently, those from Edo) would travel there to cash in on the crowds of pilgrims (see article) eager to witness plays performed at the small shrine theaters. The production of Ise prints was often sub-contracted in Osaka. Shigeharu's print was issued by Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei), an Osaka publisher. Also note the large secondary publisher seal for Momenya Tôkichi 木綿屋藤吉 (Kishimoto きし本), who was located in the theater district at Osaka Dôtonbori Ebisubashi Mitsudera Kado — see detail at right). Nevertheless, other examples of Ise prints do indeed carry the imprints of small Ise publishers.
The first two characters in Shigeharu's signature are not part of his name, but read ôju (應需 "by request," possibly indicating that this print was commissioned by a patron or fans of Rikan who wanted to see him depicted in an Ise production). The inscription at the bottom reads Ise Naka no jizô no shibai ôatari ôatari ("A really big hit at the Ise Naka no Jizô Theater!" 勢州中の地蔵芝居にて大当り／＼).
This example is especially well preserved with strong colors and metallics. It is a remarkable impression, with no scuffing of the burnishing, no rubbing of metallics, and crisp lettering — by far, the freshest we've ever seen of this design.
References: IBKYS-II, no. 135; SDK, no. 342; NKE, p. 264