Daily Yomiuri | Tom Baker | August 15, 2008
GOOD-BYE reviewed by The Daily Yomiuri
Yoshihiro Tatsumi was still in his 30s when he wrote and drew the nine short manga stories collected in Good-Bye, but three of those stories are about 60-year-old men who feel that their lives are over. Retirement offers them nothing to look forward to, and their careers leave them with nothing to look back on. For some, financial woes, health problems and flagging sexual ability magnify the aimlessness they all feel. "A worthless life," as one puts it.
Welcome to Tatsumi's aggressively bleak world. To judge by his work currently in print in English--The Push Man, a collection of manga from 1969; Abandon the Old in Tokyo, featuring works from 1970; and now Good-Bye, with selections from 1971 and 1972--hopelessness and frustration are major preoccupations. Not only do his characters suffer loneliness and physical hardship, but they are usually bereft of purpose and have their pride trampled into the dirt before their stories are over. There's no point in reading such depressing stuff unless it is done very well.
And Tatsumi does it excellently.
Almost any of his stories could be summarized as a list of bad things happening to unlucky people. But he presents them with more complexity than that, especially in this volume's story "Life is So Sad," about a bar hostess who remains faithful to an unworthy boyfriend during his four-year prison term. The way the story ends, on the eve of the convict's release, raises questions about why she has done what she has done and what she hopes to achieve by it that are likely to linger in your mind long after you've put the book aside.
Although that story is about a woman, Tatsumi writes more often about the sufferings of men, often in the form of sexual anxiety or frustration. That theme becomes more visual in this volume than in the previous two, as phallic symbols suddenly abound.
In "Just a Man," for instance, one of the 60-year-olds mentioned earlier sees a "mighty" cannon at a war memorial as a reminder of "his own youthful vigor." But when that vigor humiliatingly fails, he tearfully reevalutes the cannon as a rusty old relic.
In "Night Falls Again," the unattractive third son of a widow who was forced to sell her farm is barely surviving as a low-paid Osaka factory worker. When he sees the Tsutenkaku Tower standing against the night sky, it seems to mock his inability to find female companionship.
And in "Rash," a phallic mushroom foreshadows how a 60-year-old man who had actually achieved a measure of contentment is about to go and ruin everything for himself.
Also new in this volume are very subtle hints of almost supernatural elements, as when the protagonist of "Sky Burial" is convinced that he is being stalked by a flock of vultures--in downtown Tokyo. Are they real, or is he losing his mind?
Either way, the vultures put him in a position similar to that of other Tatsumi protagonists: He is lost in a crowd, looking around nervously for some unseen menace while thousands of fellow humans press in from every side without noticing his existence.