Japan: The 47 Ronin or Loyal Retainers

47 Ronin was a 2013 fantasy-adventure-action film depicting a fictional account of the Forty-Seven Ronin or masterless warriors, a real-life group of samurai in 18th-century Japan who avenge the murder of their master. The American studio Universal Pictures produced the adaptation. The movie, directed by Carl Erik Rinsch and starring Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada and Kou Shibasaki, was filmed in Hungary, the UK and Japan.

The heroic tragedy of the Forty-Seven Ronin has long been one of the most popular themes in Japanese art and culture, being represented on stage - both in the kabuki and bunraku genres of theatre, in the cinema and on TV, as well as in traditional woodblock prints and painting. The story has been made into a movie at least six times.

Back in the 18th and 19th centuries when the events took place, long before the age of film and video, Japanese people celebrated the exploits and selfless heroism of the 47 Ronin both through theatrical productions and through ukiyo-e prints which could be taken home and hung on the walls or kept in books. Many series of such prints were produced by a range of famous Japanese artists, but the most celebrated remain those of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1862) and of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892).

Pictures From History is pleased to present the full run of Utagawa's 1847-48 edition, as well as the full run of Yoshitishi's 1869 edition, together with various supplementary woodblock prints. We hope they will also provide historical background and a cultural foil to the fictional Hollywood movie.

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