Much to the dismay of the shogunate, tales of couples involved in desperate love affairs and double suicides were very popular in the puppet and kabuki theaters. One such story was inspired by the actual love suicide of Osome and Hisamatsu circa 1708-1710, first recorded in the most famous of all utazaimon (popular ballads). There were many adaptations, including the play Osome Hisamatsu ukina no yomiuri ("News of the Affair of Osome and Hisamatsu": お染久松色読販) written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV and first performed 3/1813. Hisamatsu, a nobleman serving as a clerk at the Abura-ya pawnshop, is the lover of Osome, although both are betrothed to others. (Hisamatsu to Omitsu, Osome to Yamagawa Seibei). Hisamatsu searches along with his sister, the court lady Takegawa, for a lost family heirloom sword stolen and pawned by an clerk named Kimon no Kihei. Kihei’s wicked mistress Oroku (once a servant to Takekara) joins him in a plot to extort money from the pawnshop, but they fail, due partly to the intervention of Seibei. Afterwards Kihei abducts Osome, but they are stopped by Hisamatsu (who has just escaped from being locked in a storehouse by his half-brother to keep him away from Osome). Hisamatsu then kills Kihei and reclaims the heirloom sword with the pawn ticket acquired by his half-brother. Unable to repress their illicit love, they journey to the Sumida River intent on committing double suicide (shinjû), but they are stopped and survive. The yomiuri of the play title were "reading-selling" vendors (詠売) who sang or chanted the news, most often of an immediate and notorious nature (such as love suicides, local scandals, and samurai vendettas).
Osome Hisamatsu was also a nana-bake ("seven changes": 七変化) and is often called Osome Hisamatsu nanayaku ("The Seven Roles of Osome and Hisamatsu": お染久松七役). The standard roles were Osome, Osome's mother Teishô, Hisamatsu, Takegawa, Omitsu, Oroku, and the geisha Koitô, but differences are found in various productions, especially when comparing performances in Osaka with those in Edo. It appears that some productions also required the same actor to play Seibei and other minor roles.
This sheet is from a set of four with Shijaku performing 7 of the 8 roles: Dote no Oruku and Omitsu on the sheet shown here; Tsurudote no Osaku and okujochû [waiting maid] Takegawa on a second sheet; the lead characters Hisamatsu & Osome on a third sheet; and finally, bo [mother] Eimyô along with the actor Arashi Rikan II as Iozaki Kyûsaku on a fourth sheet.
Okada Isajiro (岡田伊三次郎), a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its gradual dispersal starting in the year 2000 — a blockbuster event in the world of kamigata-e; see KAM in Bibliography).
References: IKB-II, no. 346; IKB-I, no. 2-438; KNP-6, p. 298; KAM, p. 248