Chase The Tear: Eric Khoo’s Tatsumi
After World War Two Japan was a wreck, economically, physically, and psychologically, yet from those unquiet times came much brilliant and innovative creative work. The legendary Japanese comics artist Yoshiro Tatsumi emerged from this milieu, remaking the manga field and creating a new type of comics, gekiga, that was aimed at the adults rather than children.
Tatsumi, Eric Khoo’s intriguing feature-length documentary about the master comics artist, screens this weekend as part of the San Francisco International Animation Festival. The film is an interesting hybrid as it both documents Tatsumi’s life as well as adapts several of his manga into short movies with the movie.
Tatsumi’s raw and gripping, beautiful manga are credited with revolutionizing the form in Japan in the 1950s. Post-World War Two Japan provides the backdrop for his stories and the spectre of a destroyed society attempting to rebuild constantly informs the tone of the work, with sorrow, inhumanity, and alienation the overriding themes. The five short stories animated in Tatsumi are mostly dark tales of human suffering, with protagonists who grapple with oppressive forces beyond their control. “Hell,” which looks at the horrors of the atomic bomb as well as the darkness within one person’s soul, “Beloved Monkey,” a parable about an ordinary man’s descent into misery and “Good-bye,” a tale of an emotionally and physically traumatized woman in postwar Japan, are all terribly sad and yet deeply compassionate stories. At the same time Tatsumi’s stories are leavened with a dark humor that acknowledges the foibles of everyday human existence, most notably in “Occupied,” a black comedy about a children’s book author with a taste for pornographic graffiti who falls into moral disgrace.
Khoo skillfully interweaves these bleak and sometimes harrowing tales with dramatized animated scenes from Tatsumi’s life that in some ways parallel the grim despair of his manga. Although he found some success as an artist as a young man, Tatsumi still grappled with the difficulties of everyday life in postwar Japan and his early career was shadowed by a jealous, bedridden brother who also had artistic aspirations.
Khoo worked closely with his subject on several aspects of the film, consulting with Tatsumi on the film’s color design and other elements of the project. Khoo also used a voiceover of Tatsumi himself recounting his life and work that is laid over animation based on the renowned artist’s visual style. In addition, Khoo took most of movie’s framing directly from the original manga panels, adding some layering and coloring effects but otherwise remaining true to Tatsumi’s compositions.
The result is an engrossing look at one of Japan’s most influential twentieth-century artists, one who used a popular medium to comment and reflect on some of the painful realities of Japan’s postwar existence. Tatsumi’s work is an excellent example of the way in which pop culture can serve both as a catharsis for and a critique of society’s ills.
San Francisco International Animation Festival
November 10–13, 2011
SF Film Society | New People Cinema
1746 Post Street, San Francisco CA 94115
Full schedule, film descriptions, and tickets here.