DIR: Eric Khoo | Singapore | 2011 | 98 mins | in Japanese with English Subtitles
Friday Nov 9, 2012 | 11:00 PM | The Royal
After being exposed to Tatsumi’s work for the first time through the movie named after the artist, I felt amazed, flustered and a little grossed out. Tatsumi’s genius definitely resides in all the contrasting emotions that each of his stories manage to evoke in the viewer.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi is a renowned Japanese comic book artist. He created gekiga, a style that shifted manga (Japanese comic books) from conventional child-oriented themes to darker adult-oriented ones.
Tatsumi adapts the artist’s illustrated autobiography A Drifting Life into a full-length movie. Shifting between the artist’s life and some of his most renowned work, the movie tells Tatsumi’s story since he was an unhappy child in Osaka just after the end of World War II. It covers his early motivations to start drawing and how he started getting published while a teenager. It also narrates how he met his favourite artist and inspiration source, Astro Boy’s creator Osamu Tezuka, and how a sort of rivalry between them arose after Tatsumi shifted from conventional manga to gekiga. One very important detail to understanding and contextualizing Tatsumi’s work is that both his personal history and his work are matched to historic events in Japan’s post-WWII history.
Watching some of Tatsumi’s work is definitely the highlight of the movie. The five featured stories help distinguish between traditional manga and gekiga. They also showcase the excellence of his work and what aspects of life and the human psyche his stories focus on.
At the same time, featuring these stories may also cause some viewers to be repulsed from the film. Focused on themes like murder, sex, prostitution and incest, the stories might easily be too dark and twisted for the average viewer.
Another high note is the animation and the use of colours in the film. The limited character’s movement and the use of black and white for Tatsumi’s stories, and a limited pallet of colours for the biographical scenes allow an experience that replicates reading a Tatsumi’s gekiga. The artist’s slow-paced voice-over greatly helps to achieve this. And, in a way, compensates for the fact that his personal life is overshadowed in the film by his fictional stories.
This movie is a must see for any comic book enthusiast and for everyone who likes deep psychological stories that deal with loneliness, frustration and depression. It is also a great movie for people interested in the post-WWII history of Japan and the influence of the war in the country’s art and culture.
Carlos Tello is Peruvian and a journalism student at UBC. His passions include literature, Latin-American arts and culture, music, movies and clowning. Follow him on Twitter at @segundoviaje.