A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Nichi Bei Times

I Dream Of Gekiga

Nichi Bei Times    |    Tomo Hirai    |    June 12, 2009

Post-war Japan was the seed of one of the most burgeoning pop-culture centers in the world, and in 1945, Yoshihiro Tatsumi was beginning what would become a lifelong career in comics from his home in Osaka. In the following 15 years, Tatsumi, along with his circle of comic artist friends and his sickly brother grow up from pre-adolescence to adulthood amid reconstruction and a newly revitalized press culture.

This autobiographical volume of Tatsumi’s life is both personal and impersonal in its presentation. The story is told in the third person, and Tatsumi’s name is changed to Hiroshi Katsuhiro to create a sense of objectivity. Some of the names in his story are consciously changed though some of the biggest names, such as his acquaintance Osamu Tezuka, remain unchanged. Each chapter follows an arc in Hiroshi’s life, both in terms of his growth as a famous artist, and in terms of the political progression of Japan as a nation. The 800-plus page volume weaves a story about Hiroshi’s growth as both a human being and an artist in post-war Japan. The presentation is fitting, for Tatsumi’s rise to fame was as an underground artist and creator of the gekiga, a longer and more dramatic form of cartooning than the regular four panel comics that prevailed in the mass culture in early post-war years.

The memoir also provides insight into Hiroshi’s thoughts about his and his cohort’s work as he matured. From his days as a young child working to publish short comics in magazines to his days as an adult, working professionally for a weekly publication, Hiroshi’s story weaves a complex message of not just his life and the politics of the time, but of Tatsumi’s philosophy of art and presentation for comics.

The book is designed, edited, and lettered by famed Nikkei comic artist, Adrian Tomine and contains an extensive appendix of translations that would have hindered the pages of the comics. The comic thus reads naturally, and stays as true as possible to the original comic pages penned by Tatsumi, though the appendix can be cumbersome.

Overall “A Drifting Life” is a finely-crafted autobiography, different from what most would expect from manga from Japan. Not only does this no frills drama look closely at the mind behind Tatsumi’s world, but also it looks beyond him to focus on everything around him in post-war Japan.

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