The title of this book pretty much says it all. “101 Great Samurai Prints” is exactly what you get, all by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of the last great masters of the Japanese style of woodblock printing known as Ukiyo-e, meaning Pictures of the Floating World.
Kuniyoshi was an apprentice of Utagawa Toyokuni, although he surpassed his master in both talent and fame. Kuniyoshi first rose to fame for his portrayal of heroic characters, such as his series “One hundred and eight heroes of the popular Suikoden all told” based on the Chinese book “Water Margins.” He was especially known for the individual flair he could give to the heroes, making them more than just carbon copies of each other but living images with personality and verve.
The images in this series are taken from two Kuniyoshi series, “Heroic Biographies from the “Tale of Grand Pacification” and “The Faithful Samurai.” The book is roughly the size of the original prints, being a little under 9 X 11 inches, and the colors and vibrant and beautiful. Each image is accompanied by text explaining shortly what the image is and what story it is portraying. The complete Japanese text on each image is not translated, but there is enough to let you know what is going on.
Some of my favorites are number 37, showing a pale and bloody samurai giving battle although pierced with arrows, or number 99, where a samurai of low character and smug face defends himself behind an overturned basket of charcoal, where Kuniyoshi had sprinkled actual charcoal on the image to create a more realistic effect.
This is really a great collection of Kuniyoshi’s samurai pictures. It is somewhat no-frills, but for the price you get a hundred and one beautiful images by one of the great masters of Japanese art.