This print forms the right hand panel of a diptych made in 1794 in honor of the actor Ichikawa Monnosuke II who died that year aged 52. Here are shown the actors Nakajima Mihoemon II, who died in 1783, and Nakamura Tomijuro, who died in 1786. Ichikawa Monnosuke II stands in the left panel alone facing them.
As Professor Narazaki Muneshige explains in his Sharaku, The Enigmatic Ukiyo-e Master (Tokyo, New York and San Francisco: Kodansha, 1983), Tomijuro and Mihoemon welcome Monnosuke into the realm of death. Sharaku pairs Tomijuro, a renowned onnagata, as a woman in distress with Mihoemon as the ominous-looking king of the underworld (Emma). As the villain he balances the heroic Monnosuke shown in the left panel. In that panel Monnosuke, in shibaraku costume, strikes the show-stopping mie (pose) just before engaging his enemies and beating them as dramatically as possible.
The present impression is the finest example extant. Two other impressions are known: one in the Tokyo National Museum, illustrated in Narazaki's book cited above, in Yamaguchi Keizaburo "Sharaku", Ukiyo taikei Vol. 7, (Tokyo 1973), no. 137, p. 72 and in many other publications; the other, in the Grabhorn/Engel collection is illustrated in Yamaguchi Keizaburo "Sharaku - Hokusai" Genshoku ukiyo-e daihyakka jiten Vol. 8 (Tokyo 1981) p. 40.
Both these latter copies of the print are considerably faded, leading scholars to suppose that the lack of color was intentional, because this was a memorial portrait. The fine color of this impression shows this to be erroneous.