With their lethal curved swords and iron-clad code of honour, Japan’s samurai have long been a source of fascination in their home country and abroad. No matter that their 700-year reign over Japan ended some 150 years ago: films as diverse as Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill have kept the legend alive.
But who knew that traditional samurai still existed today outside of the movies?
Photographer Everett Kennedy Brown found out by accident when he travelled to the Fukushima prefecture to capture the aftermath of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. There he met Michitane Soma (pictured above), head of a local samurai clan dating back eight centuries and 34 generations.
The two men hit it off, and Soma eventually introduced Brown to an entire community of modern-day samurai: men, women and children who no longer fight to the death like their forebears did, but who adhere to other aspects of the ancient tradition such as horseback riding and the Bushido philosophy.
Brown’s stunning portrait series 'Japanese Samurai Fashion' is the result.
At first (and second) glance, the evocative black-and-white photos look like they were taken back in Japan’s feudal past, thanks to Brown’s use of a 19th-century photographic technique known as the wet-plate collodian process. Add to this the subjects’ ornate, antique costumes and their warrior-like poses, and it’s as though ghosts of the past are peering into the present, or time has been exposed as a simultaneous, rather than linear, phenomenon.
But besides the portraits’ mind-bending time-blending, they’re also infused with a subtle poignancy. Soma’s samurai community was badly affected by the earthquake, sparking the desire among some of its residents to make a more conscious effort to preserve their proud history and identity. Mission accomplished.
Get Everett Kennedy Brown’s book Japanese Samurai Fashion here.
Photography: Everett Kennedy Brown