This play contains the essence of kabuki acting and has appeared frequently on Kabuki Kool. In this program it is included because it is set at the Yoshida Shrine in Kyoto.
It was first performed as a puppet play in 1746 at the Takemoto-za theater in Osaka. It is frequently performed in both the Bunraku puppet theater and kabuki and is counted as one of the "Three Classics" along with "Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees," and "Chushingura: The Treasury of Forty-Seven Loyal Retainers" by the same trio of playwrights, Takeda Izumo, Miyoshi Shoraku and Namiki Senryu. The play has appeared many times before, most recently in the "Enjoying Kabuki with Kataoka Ainosuke" and "Kabuki Conventions" programs in the 2018 season and there is a complete summary of the play in the "Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy" with an explanation focusing on the Kurumabiki scene.
The complete play shows the story of the high-ranking imperial court noble Sugawara no Michizane who is driven into exile by the slander of his political rival Fujiwara no Shihei. But much of the story is told through three brothers, Matsuomaru, Umeomaru and Sakuramaru who serve different sides in this political dispute. All three brothers are shown with the techniques of aragoto, but in different ways. Umeomaru is a pure aragoto hero and has the most exaggerated costume and make-up. Matsuomaru is also powerful, but there is a villainous touch to his appearance. Sakuramaru is more gentle and delicate and the use of aragoto kumadori make-up and movements is very restrained.
This scene is part of the third act of the original puppet play. Umeomaru serves Kan Shojo and he encounters Sakuramaru. They lament Kan Shojo's exile and their current position. Then they hear that Fujiwara no Shihei, the man responsible for Kan Shojo's exile, is making a visit to the Yoshida Shrine. They go to attack the villain.
Umeomaru and Sakuramaru stop the carriage and are about to attack when they are stopped by the third brother, Matsuomaru, who serves Shihei. The three brothers fight over the carriage. The carriage is destroyed and Shihei himself emerges. But to him, Umeomaru and Sakuramaru are no more significant than insects. The prestige of his exalted position is so great that Shihei seems to have magic powers that drive them back.
The three brothers want to fight decisively here, but Shihei says they must not defile the shrine with blood. They also want to be alive for the celebration of their father's seventieth birthday and agree to wait and settle matters then.