Pairs well with: The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka; Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness by Kenzaburo Oe; an antipathy toward modernism; and an 11,000 yen tab at a hostess bar.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi is probably the most famous practitioner of gekiga, a form of Japanese comics that marries some of the storytelling elements of manga—which predates gekiga—to an adult-oriented sensibility. Pundits and podcasters will deliberate over whether gekiga is “literary,” but it’s clear at least that these stories aren’t meant for minors. There’s murder, incest, strippers, and existential dread freckled throughout Good-Bye and through the rest of Hiroshi Tatsumi’s gekiga work, also. It was this sensibility in part that provided the initial distinction between gekiga and manga.
The style of Tatsumi’s work in the three collected editions of his gekiga work from the 1970s is a kind of attenuated realism. There are hard-boiled elements present: seedy nightclubs, femme fatales, situations with no positive way to resolve themselves. But the stories aren’t overly plotted. They are more concerned with the way in which environments and circumstances erode, or crush, the individual, not as much in character detail. The resolutions aren’t explosions, they’re fizzles. A man pees on a war monument. Another man cowers—or is he shrugging?—as a wake of vultures preens on his roof. Gesture and ambiguity are the order of the day. There’s not a single gunfight to be found in the whole book.
Most of the stories are set in a sort of generic post-war Japan, but two stories here—“Hell” and “Good-Bye,” which bookend this volume—point at Tatsumi’s political sensibilities. “Hell” concerns itself with a case of mistaken identity in the wake of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. “Good-Bye” follows the story of a deadbeat father and his daughter, who dates—maybe that’s too strong a word—a series of American GIs. Both offer a piercing look at the Japan that Tatsumi grew up in—a country desperate to rebuild itself, to reimagine itself, to transform. These stories point toward troubling truths about what people were, what they saw and what they blinded themselves to, in the years following the war.
While these two stories point toward the kind of truths written about by more explicitly political writers—see, for example, Prize Stock by Kenzaburo Oe for something like similar material to “Good-Bye”—Tatsumi’s greatest strength lie in more narrowly focused, more universal stories. Running the gamut from quotidian angst to existential horror, Tatsumi’s characters are simply and achingly rendered. There’s more Kobo Abe here than George Orwell, I think, although Tatsumi magpies broadly enough to join his work to both of those conversations.
NOTE TO SELF
Other books I’ve read so far in May include
A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
The Longest Day of the Future by Lucas Varela
Blankets by Craig Thompson
The Push-Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi