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47 RONIN: UTAGAWA KUNIYOSHI EDITION

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47 RONIN: UTAGAWA KUNIYOSHI EDITION

Illustrated with the full Utagawa Kuniyoshi print edition of 1847-1848

  • By Andrew Forbes and David Henley

Among the best-known of all stories in Japan, the tale of the 47 ronin has been told and retold, illustrated in paintings, books and woodblock prints, played in Kabuki and Bunraku theatres, made into movies and an opera, and shown in many forms on television. Indeed, it has been so popular and influential over the three centuries since the events described and depicted took place, that is has been likened to a Japanese national legend.

Although much less well known outside Japan, this may change as a result of a new film, called simply 47 Ronin, produced by the American studio Universal Pictures and starring Keanu Reeves with Hiroyuki Sanada (2013). The movie is billed as a fictional version of the 47 ronin legend, ‘set in a world of witches and giants'.  Yet the real story is rooted very firmly in historical fact, albeit the events that took place have undoubtedly been dramatised and idealised over the centuries.

The historic events that took place – illustrated in this ebook by the celebrated woodblock master Utagawa Kuniyoshi and described in the text of A. B. Metford – are generally known in Japan as the ‘Ako Vendetta' or the ‘Ako Incident' after the city of Ako in Hyogo Prefecture, southern Honshu. Subsequent fictionalised accounts of the Ako Incident, for example in Kabuki theatre and ukiyo-e woodblock prints, are called Chusingura  - generally translated as ‘The Treasury of Loyal Retainers' – in Japanese.

The stage is set in 1701, when the Tokugawa Shogunate controlled Japan through a complex network of damiyo feudal lords, each responsible for extensive hereditary territories yet subordinate to the military government or bakufu in Edo...

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