Saishiki matsu no mizuage (A multi-colored pine in the torrent: 彩色松水勢 also read as "Bright torrent by the pine," Saishiki matsu no suisei) was a multi-dance interlude in which a single actor took on five different roles in rapid succession. This was a type of hayagawari (quick-change techniques: 早替り) in which sudden transformations of character were made possible by various tricks or theatrical stunts called keren (外連). Hayagawari were made, more or less, in view of the audience. Clothing with specially sewn, loosely basted threads was pulled off or repositioned to reveal the costume for the next role. The actor would effect new voices, ages, genders, occupational talents, and body language as he demonstrated his skill in character transformation. Hayagawari were popular on the kabuki stage as part of the genre known as henge-mono (transformation pieces: 変化物) since the early eighteenth century, and examples appear in Kamigata at least as early as 1816-1817. They were especially popular during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, but continued to appear throughout the Edo and into the Meiji periods.
This sheet is one of five in a set of dances called Suikoden gohen ("Water stories with five changes" or "Suikoden five changes": 水興傳五変 ) — all performed by Onoe Tamizô II. The other roles were a shirabyôshi (professional dancer-courtesan: 白拍子), Orisuke (折助 a drunken servant confronting another actor wearing a fox costume), a girl holding an insect cage and fan as she catches fireflies (hotarigari musume: 蛍がり娘), and a Chinese person dancing (Tôjin buyô: 唐人舞踊). How the pun on "Suikoden" (the fourteenth-century Chinese novel Shuihu zhuan, "Tales of the water margin") in the print title applies here is not obvious to us, given that the standard Japanese would be 水滸傳.
Observers during Hirosada's time recognized that this dance had at least a loose association with a folk hero named Sakata Kaidômaru (坂田怪童丸) or Sakata Kintoki (坂田金時), whose childhood name was Kintarô (金太郎). Raised by a mountain woman named Yama-uba (山姥), Kaidômaru befriended the animals on the mountain and wrestled them for sport. Renowned for his supernatural strength, at one point he wrestled and subdued an enormous carp that he had grabbed under a powerful waterfall. Seen in this manner, he came to represent a symbol of strength and perseverance. It follows that a kabuki role involving so unusual an action as the wrestling of a giant carp would undoubtedly bring to mind this child superhero. Moreover, the association with Kaidômaru would seem plausible given that the Edo artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川國芳 1798-1861), whose prints were well known in Osaka, depicted Kaidômaru in a number of vigorous designs some years before Hirosada's print, such as the one shown here on the right. Furthermore, the poem inscribed in the background of Hirosada's print includes a reference to a waterfall, one that is not actually depicted, so the poet seems to have intentionally introduced a connection with Kaidômaru.
The poem is transliterated as 滝に添ふ紅葉激しく戦見, which may be read as Taki ni sou / momiji hageshiku / tatakikeri ("A fierce battle / autumn leaves / beside a waterfall"). The poet's name is given as Koaki (小朗).
For more about the artist, see Hirosada Biography.
References: IKBYS-IV, p. 62, no. 298 (far left); HOP, p. 110 (complete pentaptych, Philadelphia Museum of Art, acc #2008-62-55; here R. Keyes gives the second reading of the play title indicated in the "Background" section on this page)