Samurai March Into Portland

The Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller collection marched its army of ancient samurai warriors into the Portland Art Museum this month. As WSU Vancouver’s Asian Studies department does not presently offer a Japan-focused course, the exhibit’s source material offers students an in-depth look at a subject that they would not otherwise have available to them. Student tickets are sold for $17 and include admission to the rest of the museum, as well as any event the exhibit might host that day.

This unique collection of battle gear belonging to Japanese military families ranging from the 14th to 19th centuries will be on display for the public until Jan. 12, 2014.The exhibit is focused on not just the functionality of samurai equipment in historical Japan, but also the artistic side of these suits. Each was an individualized expression of not just technological skill, but also served to display the prowess of each creator.

Japan’s hereditary warrior class has been represented in art, the written word, film and virtually every other medium. This exhibit, one of the largest of its kind and the only museum collection outside of Japan to focus on samurai armor, presents a unique opportunity to learn about these ancient warriors.  The exhibit’s time in Portland is the only time that the collection will be displayed on the West Coast.

For those less interested in the armor and other equipment of the samurai, a display of artwork depicting ancient samurai is also part of the exhibit. A collection of 25 Japanese prints illuminates the perception of the samurai among the common people of Japan. Topics ranging from battlefield heroism to silent thought and even stinging defeat were all portrayed. These prints were created to show the ordinary people the life of the samurai.  The gallery features works that also elaborate on the role of the samurai in Japan as both patrons and creators of the fine arts.

Film buffs might enjoy the exhibit’s series on Samurai Cinema.  This series, featuring films made across six decades, focuses on the mythology of the samurai, and how that character has endured in Japan as well as influencing the works of filmmakers internationally.

The Samurai Cinema series describes both the samurai film and the western as celebrating “tales of loyalty, revenge, romance, fighting prowess, and the decline of a traditional way of life.”

The Northwest Film Center is showing a series of films incorporating classical masterpieces of Japanese film, such as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Onibaba. Additionally, Western films that incorporate similar themes will be shown, such as A Fistful of Dollars and Kill Bill.

The Portland Art Museum has also scheduled a number of events to coincide with the display of this collection.  Shamisen music, a traditional Japanese three-stringed guitar that resembles a banjo, is featured on October 16. On Oct. 27, the museum will host a guest lecture from Thom Richardson, keeper of armour and oriental collections for the Royal Armouries in Leeds, on the construction and unique features of samurai armor.

On November 2, Dark Horse Comics is co-hosting a pair of lectures on the samurai in comic books.  The event features Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics founder and president, as well as Stan Sakai, creator of the long-running series Usagi Yojimbo, inspired by the life of 17th century samurai and author Miyamoto Musashi.

The exhibit rarely travels to the Pacific Northwest and will not be making any other stops in the region, so anyone interested in the history of Japan, as embodied by these ancient samurai warriors, will need to visit the Portland Art Museum before January 14, 2014, when the collection heads out for its international tour.  Student tickets at $17 and include admission to the rest of the museum, as well any event the exhibit might host that day.

Visit the exhibit <a href=”portlandartmuseum.org/special/samurai/home”>website</a>.

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