Katakiuchi-mono (revenge-killing plays: 敵討物; also called adauchi-mono: 仇打ち物) were a subgenre of kabuki and puppet theater plays featuring samurai vendettas. In pre-modern Japan, katakiuchi were, within limitations, an accepted way to punish the perpetrators of murder against certain blood relations among the samurai class. Such actions probably had a basis in Confucian morality, which taught that one should not live under the same heaven as his father's enemy. The frequency of katakuchi is unknown, although Tokugawa historical documents exist of applications to local bakufu from relatives of slain lords asking permission to track down and take revenge upon the murderers. Failure to give notice and obtain official sanction was a criminal act. The legalities of katakiuchi were inconsistent among the various domains, and there were also difficulties with murders based on grievances but carried out under the pretense of a moral revenge. The quintessential model of katakiuchi was the Soga monogatari (Tale of the Soga: 曾我物語), recounting the revenge taken by the brothers Soga no Jûrô and Soga no Gorô against Kudô Suketsune for their father's murder in 1193.
Katakiuchi Takane no taiko (Revenge and the loud noise of the drum: 復讐高音鼓) was apparently performed only in Kamigata, starting in 1808, but neither the plot and nor the origin of the tale are known. Early kabuki libretti were sometimes treated as ephemera, without formal publication or organized preservation of scripts. Being an actor-centered art form, kabuki allowed its performers (especially the superstars) to take liberties with the dialogue or plots; sometimes scenes or entire plays were adapted to highlight the particular strengths of a star actor. As a result, we occasionally encounter woodblock prints depicting plays for which we have little or no information.
This scene depicts a confrontation on the grounds of a temple. The courtesan Namiji looks on as Asama Saemon subdues two dôshin (lowest-ranking criminal justice officials of the samurai class: 同心). He towers above them wielding his katana (long sword: 刀) as they cringe below gripping their jitte (truncheons: 十手). The deep receding perspective, adapted from Western influences, was a common pictorial element on the stage and became part of the graphic repertoire of ukiyo-e artists.
Okada (a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its recent dispersal ― a blockbuster event in the world of kamigata-e; see KAM in Bibliography).
References: IKB-6, p. 247; PRG, no. 178: NKE, p. 211