The actor Arashi Kichisaburô II (嵐吉三郞, 1769-1821, later Kitsusaburô I, 嵐橘三郎 in his final year; also known as ô-Rikan, the Great Rikan, 大璃寛) was an outstanding performer blessed with a commanding stage presence and and a powerful voice. He achieved great success acting exclusively in the Kamigata theaters (i.e., never appearing in Edo). His well-documented rivalry with the superstar Nakamura Utaemon III was arguably the most notorious in kabuki history. When they finally reconciled and agreed to appear together on stage, it was not to be, as Kichsaburô died unexpectedly in the ninth lunar month of 1821 before the much-anticipated staging could take place.
Suma no miyako Genpei tsutsuji (Azaleas of the Minamoto and Taira clans in the capital at Suma: 須磨都源平躑躅) premiered as a ningyô jôruri (puppet play: 淨瑠璃) at the Takemoto Theater, Osaka in 1730. Kabuki staged its first version in 1763. The dramatization was based on the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike clan: 平家物語) and Genpei seisuiki (Story of the rise and fall of the Heike and Genji during the Genpei wars: 源平盛衰記) — chronicles about the pivotal struggle (1156-1185) between the Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) clans ending at the battle of Dannoura in western Honshû. The play serves as a prelude to the most famous individual confrontation in samurai legend — the slaying at Ichinotani of the fifteen-year-old Atsumori, son of a Taira general, by the Minamoto general Kumagai no Jirô Naozane ( 熊谷次郎直実 1141-1208), serving Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-89). In the play, Kumagai owes a debt of gratitude to Atsumori's mother, for she had saved Kumagai and his wife from execution 17 years earlier. Having no other way to honor his debt, Kumagai substitutes and sacrifices his own son for Atsumori. This shocking turn of events only delays the inevitable, however, and finally Kumagai must slay Atsumori. Distraught at the loss of his son and his failure to save Atsumori, Kumagai renounces his allegiance to the Minamoto and takes the vows of a Buddhist monk.
Before 1818, Shunkôsai Hokushû (春好斎北洲) signed simply as Shunko (春好) or Shunkôsai (春好斎). Thus this design, with "Hokushû" (北洲) included in the signature, makes it the second earliest known example of the full Shunkôsai Hokushû signature (the first came in 1/1818).
This rare design, memorable for the dynamic pose taken up by Kichisaburô, is the right sheet of a collaborative work (gassaku: 合作) — a diptych for which Shunyôsai Hokkei (春陽齋北敬) designed the left sheet depicting Ogino Kinshi I (萩野錦子) as Kohagi (jitsu [actually] Atsumori, 小はぎ実はあつもり). For another print portraying Kichisaburô II in this same staging (in the role of Washio Saburô) at the Kita Horie shrine theater in Osaka, see ASN01.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 72; KNZ, no. 49; KNP-6, p. 42