Tatsumi is an animated film that takes us into the Godfather of Gekiga (a break-away genre of Japanese manga), Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s, life and works. Based on his autobiography A Drifting Life, and a collection of his earlier short stories, Tatsumi was a surprisingly engaging cinematic experience, even for someone like me with very little knowledge of the Japanese Gekiga and Manga landscape.
The film’s grand narrative is Tatsumi’s life but at various points this narrative is interrupted (for lack of a better word) with a series of his short stories titled ‘Hell’, ‘Beloved Monkey’, ‘Just a Man’, ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Occupied’. These diversions from Tatsumi’s life into his work however are what make this film so powerful. Whenever the film breaks off into these stories, the animation reverts to black and white pencil sketch-like drawings with occasional splashes of colour. The stories themselves are dark, even twisted and adult in theme and content, true to its Gekiga style.
…the ideal counter-narrative…
Located within a post World War II Japan, the protagonists of these stories are often struggling with and within society and whenever life gives them the doorway to success (be it in life, love or work), they are unable to grasp it, often due to their own failings. Their failure is further highlighted by the narrative of their creator’s life, which charts his own hard but dedicated journey towards becoming a successful artist. It is the ideal counter-narrative: lifting the film from the unnerving and pervasive darkness of the short stories into light.
Animation wise, at first the style seemed almost amateur and somewhat un-dynamic. But once you get in to it, Tatsumi’s illustrations are so powerful and evocative, even a slideshow would’ve been just as effective. In this case substance makes up for style.
Tatsumi is a must-see if you are a lover of Manga and indeed of the great Yoshihiro Tatsumi himself. Given that Tatsumi collaborated closely on this project with the director (Eric Khoo) it is sure to satisfy purists. If, like me, you are new to the work of Tatsumi, this film is quite likely to leave you with a thirst to discover more.
Image courtesy of Tatsumi