Shini-e or "death prints" commemorated the passing away of an actor or artist. An earlier term was tsuizen no nishiki-e ("memorial brocade print"), but we know that shini-e was used at least by the 1850s. Conventional shini-e often depicted the memorialized figures in light blue court robes called shini sôzoku ("death dresses") or mizu kamishimo (ceremonial robes). Many shini-e included the date of death and age of the deceased, kaimyô (posthumous name), and temple burial sites, while some included the death poems by the deceased or eulogistic verses written by family or admirers.
Kataoka Gadô II (1810-63) was born in the province of Echigo. Like most kabuki actors, he was known by a bewildering array of geimei (stage names). Early on, he was adopted by the Edo superstar Ichikawa Danjûrô VII (1791-1859), taking the name Ichikawa Shinnosuke. He left the Ichikawa clan, however, after a falling out with Danjûrô VII, becoming Mimasu Iwagorô. After studying with the Kamigata star Arashi Rikan II under the name Arashi Kitsujirô, he established his connection with the Kataoka lineage in 1833 when he was adopted by Kataoka Nizaemon VII and given the name Kataoka Gatô I. His next geimei was Kataoka Gadô II in 1837, followed by Kataoka Nizaemon VIII in 1857 (in Edo, where he had relocated in 1854). He finally returned to Osaka in late 1862, reclaiming the name Kataoka Gadô II shortly before his death.
Gadô II was a highly ranked actor, receiving effusive accolades in the yakusha hyôbanki ("actor evaluation books"), such as shi-jô-jô-kichi ("unique, top, top, excellent"). He was most successful as a tachiyaku (leading man), and given his striking good looks, he was particularly admired as a nimaime (handsome young lover), which led to favorable comparisons with the great heartthrob of the period, Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII (1823-54).
Kadô II is shown holding prayer beads as he watches over the next generation of Kataoka actors, along with his contemporary Arashi Rikan III (who would pass away only two months later). Kadô's pale form is shrouded within a spirit cloud emanating from a votive tablet hanging around the neck of his son, Hidetarô (see below). The inscription at the far left indicates Gadô's date of death (Bunkyû 3, second month, sixteenth day) and his posthumous Buddhist name (Ryûsoin Gajo Nikkan Shinshi). The mourners are (R to L):
Kataoka Hidetarô I (1857-1934; Gadô II's fourth son; later Gatô III and Nizaemon XI)
Kataoka Gatô II (1839-1871; Gadô II's adopted son; posthumously Nizaemon IX in 1907)
Arashi Rikan III (1812-4/1863; disciple and heir to Rikan II, cited above)
Kataoka Tsuchinosuke I (Gadô II's third son, 1851-95; later Gadô III and Kataoka Nizaemon X)
This is a rare and very well printed deluxe impression, with mica and the often-found tarnishing of metallic colorants. Its colors are beautifully preserved. There is an earlier state of this design without the figure of Tsuchinosuke (see HSK reference below) — making our impression a particularly interesting example of an ireki (lit., "inserted wood") in which a new element of composition is cut into the original key block. In this case, the figure of Tsuchinosuke was added just below the spectre of Kadô II; possibly, the young actor was overlooked in the first edition, and thus his inclusion here was an attempt to remedy the situation.
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; the present impression is featured as plate no. 107 (see KAM below).
References: KAM, plate no. 107; HSK, no. 249