The Birth of Gekiga: Tatsumi, A Movie Review

2 Dec

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By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

Tatsumi is a simple animated movie about the birth of a new storytelling form, and it may not be for everyone. I first saw this at the Victoria Film Festival some years ago and knew I eventually have to look for it on Amazon so I can see it again. Of course, the difference between when I will watch it requires me to be in the right mood. Some of the material presented is on the bleak side.

Instead of the traditional comic book style realities that most readers associate manga with, gekiga is a more serious treatment. The narratives can be bleak or sombre, and it is supposed to be an accurate representation of real life. Some art historians say that gekiga is the precursor to the North American graphic novel.

This film begins with a eulogy by the artist himself, Yoshihiro Tatsumi. In the movie, it’s the 7th anniversary of Tezuka’s death and Tatsumi is feeling very introspective about the man he greatly respects. The delivery is a beautiful homage to Tezuka, but that’s not what this film is about.

Instead, it’s a biopic about Tatsumi’s struggles to become an artist. It’s told in parts, and if this movie was marketed differently, it should bear the subtext of “A Drifting Life: The Short Stories of Yoshihiro Tatsumi” in the posters. This film is inspired by this book, and viewers will not know this detail until the credits roll. But with this movie, these tales are inter-woven in with Yoshihiro’s own narrative of his life struggles.

“Hell” deals with his youth and his experiences of growing up in a war-ravaged Hiroshima. In the story, another hero finds terror in the streets days after the bomb went off. There’s a moving moment where he discovers a blackened silhouette of a boy giving his mother a message on a wall, and he takes a photograph of it. Years later, he sells the commercial rights to have it published and that sets off a wave of sympathy for those who have died but also controversy when the truth suddenly reveals itself. This short is perhaps the most poignant of the five tales offered. Each of them makes a careful statement about the sociological structures that exist in Japan. And not all of them are necessarily good.

To distinguish the stories from the biographical narrative, they begin by separating the colour palette. The animation blends a mix of CGI style with cel. And the artwork beautifully replicates Tatsumi’s style. Most of which was drawn by Tatsumi himself and then animated on a computer in black and white. But by “Black Blizzard,” his full-length feature goes full colour.

The early period stories are told with a light splash of sepia tones. The contrasts beautifully work to distinguish the overall tale. Tatsumi’s tales depict “advanced psychological characterizations” of the life the characters face. But at the same time, they are a reflection of his own personal feelings of how he saw life in the 70′s evolve. This film holds nothing back in its graphic depictions of war-torn mentalities and the red light district. Korean director, Eric Khoo, does a great job in recreating that world and explaining Tatsumi’s life in stages.

This film shines in the reveal of how beloved Tatsumi has become. He did more than earn his wings by just having this movie made. These days, he is as well respected as his mentor, Osamu Tezuka, and that says a lot about the industry that some never retire from.

4 Stars out of 5

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