In this version Takiyasha is aware of how her father’s dream of a second empire is now unattainable, but remains focused on quenching her father’s thirst for justice after being betrayed by a cousin and ally.
In other versions of the story Satsuki has different fates than her death in a duel with Mitsukuni. In one of these she does not die, but later changes her name to Takiyasha, and ends her days at Lake Tazawa, using her powers to help nearby villagers who remember her as a deity.
Political history undoubtedly defines a clear division between the good guys, loyal to the emperor, and the bad guys, but Kuniyoshi decides to depict the princess as a heroine as she unrolls the spell to summon the Gashadokuro that will allow father and daughter to fight side by side for the first and last time.
The ruined palace indicates the long loneliness that has ripened Princess Satsuki’s thirst for revenge.
The color chosen for the princess is also pink, a color that in Ukiyo-e prints is paired with dignified, virtuous women and other positive heroines.
Mitsukuni blocks the attack of the follower of the princess Araimaru and without flinching observes the terrifying apparition. The skeleton has such an oppressive and cumbersome presence that often today of the triptych only the first two on the right are reproduced, forgetting that the real protagonist is actually the princess.
What Kuniyoshi presents us is a duel where all four combatants are celebrated in their iron determination and grim fate.
The legend of the Skeleton
The tale I am about to tell is one of the most legendary revenge stories.
The protagonist of the story is Masakado Taira, a daimyō (feudal lord) who started a rebellion to oppose Emperor Suzaku but unfortunately lost his life in battle at the hands of his own family. The one who caused his death was his own cousin Sadamori Taira, who displayed his head as a trophy.
Princess Satsuki, Masakado’s daughter, left immediately for Kyoto as soon as the tragic news got to her. There, at the temple dedicated to the rain god Takao no Kami, she pleaded desperately, “Give me the strength to avenge my father!”
The god heard this painful plea for help and bestowed magical powers on the girl so that she could pursue her quest for revenge. Satsuki, now unstoppable, renamed herself Takiyasha and together with his brother, began to organize a new rebellion.
Meanwhile the emperor, warned of suspicious activites, decided to send Ōya Tarō Mitsukuni to scour the surroundings. During the search Mitsukuni and his men were caught in the rain, so they thought to take shelter at a dilapidated palace, where at that moment Takiyasha and her brother were waiting right for them. The men were unaware that the rain had been caused by the princess herself and that they had fallen into a trap.
The princess assumed the guise of Kisaragi, a seductive courtesan. She claimed to have fallen in love with the warrior Mitsukuni but was now distressed at not being noticed by him. The suspicious Mitsukuni began to talk about the bloody battle where Masakado met his death.
After listening to his tale Takiyasha couldn’t hold back her tears; she revealed her true identity then tried to convince the man of the validity of her attempted rebellion and proposed an alliance. Ōya Tarō Mitsukuni refused the offer and called in his men.
The princess then invoked a spell by right of her magical powers, summoning a huge skeleton inhabited by her father’s will. In this way it was as if father and daughter could fight side by side for the first and last time.
The colossal skeleton loomed over the samurai. Its strength was overpowering and its presence, compared to that of the samurai, overwhelming. Mitsukuni’s men had no chance and were torn to pieces.