The play Keisei setsugekka (A courtesan play: Sun, moon, and flowers: けいせい雪月花) premiered at the Kado Theater at the New Year in 1830. It was written by the superstar actor Nakamura Utaemon III under his penname Kanazawa Ryûgoku. Later, just one act (called Kari no tayori) was taken from the whole and performed as a light-hearted piece without the drama featured in the larger play. It is this extracted piece that is mostly known today.
Rikan II portrays Mashiba Hisatsugu in one of the many tales about the legendary rônin bandit Ishikawa Goemon. In real life, Goemon, at the age of sixteen, murdered three men during a robbery. He was finally captured many years later in 1594, when the shogun Hideyoshi had him boiled in oil. The Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川 五右衛門物) endowed the bandit with supernatural powers and devilish abilities to disguise himself, which provided playwrights with opportunities for fantastical action — often aided by clever stagecraft — and surprising plot twists.
After fires destroyed all three theaters in Edo in 3/1829, a number of renowned Edo actors relocated temporarily in Osaka to perform there while the Edo theaters were rebuilt. The 1/1830 production, which was the premiere of Keisei setsugekka, was a huge hit, featuring Edo's Ichikawa Hakuen II (the name used by Ichikawa Danjûrô VII while acting in Osaka), Nakamura Matsue III, Matsumoto Kôshirô V, and Sawamura Kunitarô II. In addition, the playwright and Osaka's biggest star, Nakamura Utaemon III, was in the cast, playing Ishikawa Goemon opposite Rikan's Hisatsugu. The same cast traveled to Kyoto to perform setsugekka in the third month. Besides Shigeharu, seemingly all the top-level artists designed prints for this play, including Ashiyuki, Hokuei, Hokushû, Kunihiro, and Yoshikuni.
This is a fine close-up portrait of Rikan striking an intense mie (display or stop-action climactic pose: 見得). His bulging eyes occupy the center of the composition, appropriate for an actor whose nickname was Metoku Rikan ("Rikan with the Powerful Eyes").
This impression comes from the much-admired Martin Levitz collection, New York City. Some of the Levitz prints were used to illustrate Schwaab's Osaka Prints (1989).
References: OSP, no. 135