Outlaw Swords Of Death: Warrior & Hero Designs 1825-45

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Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1862) was one of the last great masters of the Japanese ukiyo-e style of woodblock prints and painting. The range of Kuniyoshi’s preferred subjects included many genres: landscapes, beautiful women, Kabuki actors, cats, and mythical animals. He is best known for his stunning depictions of the battles of samurai and legendary heroes, ghosts and monsters.

Jack Hunter is author and editor of over 20 previous books on cinema, including EROS IN HELL and MOONCHILD, as well as the counter-culture classics FREAK BABYLON and CHAPEL OF GORE AND PSYCHOSIS. After the success of his ukiyo-e study DREAM SPECTRES (2010), he has mainly spent his time in Tokyo developing and researching the Ukiyo-e Master Series.

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Kuniyoshi, who by 1825 had already produced numerous portrait and triptych prints of mythic warriors and beasts, was commissioned in 1827 by the publisher Kagaya Kichiemon to produce a set of 5 illustrations for the Chinese novel Suikoden, to be sold not in book form but as individual nishiki-e (woodblock prints). The immediate success of these prints led to great celebrity for Kuniyoshi, who went on to depict a further 69 of the 108 outlaws. He also worked on several other Suikoden-themed series, illustrated several volumes of the book series Kanagaki Suikoden, and even issued a set of clandestine shunga (pornographic pictures) titled Nazorae Suikoden.

Kuniyoshi went on to produce a large volume of musha-e over the subsequent years, enjoying his reputation as master of the genre. OUTLAW SWORDS OF DEATH collects and considers over 160 of Kuniyoshi’s most vivid and complex images of warriors, heroes and anti-heroes from the period 1825―1845, presented in large-format and full-colour throughout. It features both stand-alone works and designs taken from various series, including the entire 74-picture 108 Heroes. Other series that are sampled in the book include the following:

800 Heroes Of Our Country’s Suikoden (Honchá´ Suikoden gá´yá» happyaku-nin no hitori, 1830-1836); 8-Dog History Of Old Kyokutei (Kyokutei-á´ seicho Hakkenshi zui-ichi, 1835); People’s History Of The Suikoden (Haishi Suikoden, c.1830); Mirror Of Military Excellence And Fierce Courage (Buei má´yá» kagami, 1836); Military Brilliance Of The 8 Views (Yá´bu hakkei, 1836); 108 Heroes Of The Suikoden, One By One (Suikoden gá´ketsu hyaku-bachi-nin no hitori, 1830); 100 Stories Of Military Valour (Buyá» hyaku den, 1836); Heroes Of The Popular History Of The 3 Kingdoms (Tsá»zoku Sangokushi eiyá» no ichi-nin, 1836); and A Suikoden Of Japanese Heroes (Eiyá» Yamato Suikoden, 1843).

Taken together, the 160 images in “Outlaw Swords Of Death” comprise a definitive selection of the art and imagination of an unsurpassed 19th century master as applied to the dazzling, hyper-kinetic and often violent genre in which he remains unsurpassed.

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