Soma Tarô hyôbundan (The story of Tarô, heir to the Soma clan) was an adaptation of the tale of Masakado. The story combines elements of history and legend set in the tenth century when the ambitious Taira Masakado (Soma no Kojirô, died 940), a general formerly with the regent Fujiwara Takahira, moved to take control of the eight eastern provinces and declare himself emperor. Takahira's warriors defeated Masakado and later his son Soma Tarô when he attempted to avenge his father's death.
Theatrical dramatizations featuring Masakado typically present supernatural happenings and transformations. Masakado could create ghostly clones of himself, and his castle in Soma (near Sendai) was said to be haunted by the spirits of his retainers. Both Soma Tarô and his sister Takiyashi-hime — the subject of the better known play Shinobi yoru koi wa kusemono (Appearing Concealed in the Guise of Love) premiering four years after Shigeharu's print was published — were also capable of sorcery. Takiyashi-hime takes the form of another human (a courtesan) and then, most famously, transfigures herself into a giant toad.
The figures are set within a Shijô-style landscape that, for single-sheet kamigata-e, comprises an unusually large percentage of the total composition. Heitarô is shown looking down upon Takiyashi and Yasukata as he leans against a most curiously shaped boulder — one that emblemizes the socerer's ability to take the form of a giant toad.
The narrow uncolored area at the far lower left edge of the right sheet is due to one of the color blocks not matching the width of the keyblock — a common occurrence in ukiyo-e. These areas were usually trimmed off, which is why many polyptychs have slightly askew keyblock lines where the sheets join. It is preferable to have a more complete sheet, even when the colors blocks don't fill in the edges of the keybock designs.
The rock at the lower right appears to be in the shape of a toad —symbolic of Soma Tarô's and his sister Takiyashi's skills in necromancy.
The impression in Waseda University (Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum collection — see WAS reference below) has the hand-stamped seal of the brilliant block cutter Kasuke, identified as the surimono hangishi (surimono woodblock master), confirming that the design was prepared with the greatest skill possible during this period of Osaka printmaking. The diptych is arguably Shigeharu's most celebrated design, rarely available complete and in good condition.
Okada Isajiro (岡田伊三次郎), a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its gradual dispersal starting in the year 2000 — a blockbuster event in the world of kamigata-e; see KAM in Bibliography)
References: WAS-IV, no. 484; OSP, no. 153