Comment on actors roles in shini-e

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Posted by John Fiorillo on November 17, 2002 at 04:21:36:

In Reply to: Re: Hiroshige actor print posted by David Moves On on November 16, 2002 at 02:41:51:

David, et al.,

Although these comments do not cover the main points of your discussion, I would like to make one correction to David's comment about role names not appearing on shini-e. Actually, the genre of shini-e does indeed include designs with actors' role names. Typically these were portraits made for a theatrical performance given just before an actor's death. Sometimes they were converted into shini-e by the addition of memorial information. At other times, designs with role names were made from the start as shini-e, but with additional memorializing elements added (such as inscriptions giving dates of death, age, posthumous Buddhist name, temple burial site, or memorial poems).

From what I have seen and researched, such actor role-name shini-e were often produced when the actor's death was sudden and unexpected, but this was not always true. Sometimes the role was so closely associated with the actor that it was selected for the shini-e.

Using sketches of actors in roles was understandable for another reason: Publishers had to produce memorial prints very quickly to honor the deceased (frequently in response to the wishes of actor fan clubs) and take advantage of a temporarily inflated market. Rather than commission artists to produce new designs, they sometimes used existing sketches of the actors in roles to speed up production.

See, for example, the discussion and illustrations on my web page at:


The first anonymous shini-e depicts Tamashichi in the role of Ogura Hangan; the role is written just to the left of the actor's head. The same role was depicted in the third example on that page (the one with the black background), where it is written within the red cartouche. It appears that in the first case the design was originally made as a shini-e because the actor holds a rosary (unless it was added later - the print is not in my possession and I cannot verify this). In the second case, it is more likely that the design was first made as a theatrical print, but then modified to serve as a shini-e. Tamashichi first performed the role in Osaka, when I expect the design was issued, and then during the following month he played Hangan for 15 days in Kyoto, until a long-term illness finally overcame him. My feeling is that Tamashichi’s loyal fans so admired their actor’s dedication to them and to his craft, as he had taken on the role of Hangan despite his fatal illness, that they found it most appropriate to have him depicted in that role for the shini-e.


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