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New Releases from Two Manga Masters

June 21, 2012 | Claire | Comments (0)

Fallen"Rakugo, or "Fallen Words", is a storytelling art form that is unique to Japanese traditional culture, and one that is extremely interesting to me.  The stories are handed down through generations, and the development and mood of a given story can be altered drastically by the personality and style of the performer.  A single raguko story can be transformed into any number of wildly disparate performances.  The pleasures of raguko emerge from this universal, mutable quality:  generations of performers continue to retell these stories, improving on them and crafting them to suit the tastes of the present day."

(Yoshihiro Tatsumi, in his afterword to the English translation of Falling Words".)

 In his long and distinguished career as a manga artist, Yoshihiro Tatsumi has won many significant awards both in Japan and internationally.  Among his accomplishments is the development of a particular style of manga called gekiga. Gekiga style is marked by a serious, sometimes dark and violent, storyline and an artistic style that is more realistic than other mainstream manga.

With the newly published Fallen Words, Tatsumi experiements with something a little different;  that is, a literary work that combines the realistic artistry of geika with traditional rakugo stories, "moral comedies" that highlight the follies and absurdities of our lives.  Humour is not typically an element of geika style, but Tatsumi has a finely-tuned ability to pace and time a story to maximum effect.  I have to admit I recognized some of these stories, as they have counterparts in Western folklore, but knowing the bones of the tale did nothing to mar my pleasure in Tatsumi's artistic storytelling. 


You don't need a lot of cultural context to appreciate Fallen Words.  If you've ever dreamed about winning a lottery, you'll recognize yourself in "The Innkeeper's Fortune".   If you've ever seen a father struggling to control a wayward child in public, you'll recognize the characters in "New Year Festival".  In "Fiery Spirits", a man's wife and his concubine engage in an escalating battle of curses until they both die, but even then he cannot appease their jealous and quarrelsome spirits.  Greed, misunderstanding, trickery, desire, laziness--Tatsumi pokes fun at them all in these witty and sophisticated stories. 

Here's a brief movie trailer which gives a further taste of Tatsumi's style:




Also just translated into English and handsomely published by Drawn and Quarterly press is Shigeru Mizuki's NonNonBa. This fascinating, quasi-autobiographical story follows a young boy in 1930s Japan, and the elderly lady who teaches him about the yokai, or Japanese ghosts.  A veritable fountain of folkloric knowledge, NonNonBa guides the young Shigeru as he encounters a variety of spirits, some whimsical, some dangerous, some just downright strange.  There is a vivid sense of place and time in this work, and I felt that NonNonBa, the grandmotherly wise woman with her practical advice (if hungry ghosts attack, draw the pictogram for "rice" on your palm and lick it three times), was probably among the last of her kind.  Mizuki shows us not only the weird and fantastical aspects of the spirit world, but also the comfort we can draw from it during difficult times.  According to its publisher, NonNonBa was the first manga ever to receive the European Angouleme prize for Best Album.  In Japan, by the way, Mizuki is known as a master of Yokai manga, and has an entire museum dedicated to his life and work. 

If you enjoy these, here are some other thought-provoking and well-reviewed reads from TPL's manga and graphic novel collection. 

Onwards DriftingEarth Buddha