Whether Hyrule or the Mushroom Kingdom, we’re used to video game heroes saving their own respective pixel worlds. This is the story of how video game characters like Mario, Link, and Kirby helped save a “floating world” (literally translated): ukiyo-e, a genre in the ancient craft of Japanese woodprinting. After artistically languishing for most of the 20th century, the craft is in the process of being discovered by a whole new generation, thanks to Ukiyo-E Heroes, a collaboration between American illustrator Jed Henry and British craftsman David Bull that reimagines popular video game characters in the context of medieval Japan.
Of all the visual art the West associates with ancient Japan, woodprints are probably the most well known. You may not have ever heard the term ukiyo-e before, or know how a Japanese woodprint is made, but if you’ve ever seen a copy of The Great Wave off Kanagawa or The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, you know the style.
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