The play Aigikyo karigane gomon (Blue bellflower and the Karigane's five crests: 藍桔梗雁金五紋) premiered in Osaka in 1774 at the Kado Theater. It is one of many so-called Karigane gonin otoko mono (Karigane's five-men plays: 雁金五人男物) about the otokodate (chivalrous commoners, lit. "standing men": 男伊達 or 男作) in both the puppet and kabuki theaters. The real-life Karigane gonin were members of a loosely knit gang of 11 or more outlaws led by Karigane Bunshichi. Guilty of beatings, theft, and murder spanning several years, they were executed on 8/26/1702. Theatrical dramatizations helped to mythologize these criminals and transform them from street thugs into heroes. One of the most familiar adaptations of this popular theme is Otokodate itsutsu karigane (Karigane's five brave and chivalrous men: 男作五雁金) written for the puppet theater by Takeda Izumo II and premiering in 9/1742 at the Takemoto Theater.
The Karigane gonin were often depicted in similar dress and accessories, as if wearing uniforms to express their common cause. One accessory often associated with these otokodate was the shakuhachi (end-blown wooden flute: 尺八), carried by all five members of the gang. Each of them also sports a tenugui (cotton towel: 手ぬぐい) draped around the shoulders. Although mostly hidden here by the costumes and accessories, the five men are each associated with a particular emblem or crest: Kaminari Shôkurô's two crossed drum sticks; Karigane Bunshichi's stylized triple-geese hexagon; Anno Heibei's ideograph reading an ("tranquility"); Gokuin Sen'emon's crossed mallets over a character from his name, reading sen (thousand); and Hotei Ichiemon's fan and sack.
This tableau of the five actors relies on a compositional arrangement occasionally encountered in ukiyo-e. Often, it is actually the combination of five mie ("display" or climactic pose: 見得) struck by each actor separately on stage, but for the purposes of print design, brought together as if they had done so in a single group pose.
Provenance: Haber Collection; see Dean Schwaab, Osaka Prints, no. 92, for this same impression; excellent color and a rare artist!
References: OK, no. 54; OSP, p. 117, no. 92 (this same impression)