Imoseyama onna teikin (Mount Imo and Mount Se — An exemplary tale of womanly virtue, 妹背山婦女庭訓), written by Chikamatsu Hanji and others, premiered in 1771 as a puppet play (ningyô joruri). It dramatizes historical events leading to the establishment of one of Japan's great families, the Fujiwara, and in particular the victory of its founder Fujiwara [Nakatomi] no Kamatari (614-669) over Soga no Iruka in 645. In the play, Iruka controls his lords (daimyô) by preventing alliances among them that might threaten his rule.
Two families, headed by Kiyozumi and Sadaka, are loyal to the emperor but are feuding and live on opposite sides of the Yoshino River. Complications arise when their children Koganosuke and Hinadori fall in love. After Iruka orders Koganosuke to serve him and Hinadori to become his mistress, the parents and young lovers see how desperate the situation has become with the tyrant Iruka. As the action takes place simultaneously in each house at opposite sides of the kabuki stage, Koganosuke (with his father's consent) commits ritual suicide (seppuku) to foil Iruka's plans. Not knowing of her lover's death, Hinadori initially considers agreeing to Iruka's lascivious demands as a way of saving Koganosuke from even more harm at the hands of Iruka, but when one of her doll's heads is accidentally knocked off, she takes it as a bad omen and allows Sadaka to behead her. When the parents realize what has happened to the other's child, they arrange a symbolic "marriage" as Sadaka floats Hinadori's head across the river on a horizontal harp (koto) decorated with her festival dolls.
This impressive diptych, one of Hokushû's most sought-after designs, portrays Kiyozumi and Sadaka, along with their children, after they have learned of Iruka's demands. Above their heads are flowering cherry blossoms (sakura) from trees growing along the banks of the Yoshinogawa. Koganosuke holds a long sword (katana), while Hinadori holds one of her dolls from the Hina matsuri (Doll's Festival), celebrated on the third day of the third month.
The left sheet has a thickly applied silver-color metallic pigment on Hinadori's hair ornaments that is very well preserved (often thee is some loss due to rubbing). Moreover, the colors on our impression are simply superb, the best we have ever seen! We cannot imagine an example with better-preserved colors. This is surely what the artist and publisher intended.
References: IKBYS I, no. 96 (inv. no. ike-40617); KNZ, no. 85; IKB-I, no. 1-413; KNP-6, p. 77; TWOP, no. 16; NKE, p. 217; BRH, p. 176