Tatsumi: The Post-War Life & Loves of A Manga God

Author's Notes
I reviewed Eric Khoo's animated biopic Tatsumi, as part of a series on the 2011 Tokyo International Film Festival. The film chronicled the life of renowned Osaka-born manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who was responsible for spearheading the movement to make Japanese comics less childish.

Fans of Japanese manga may be familiar with the genre gekiga (劇画), a term coined by renowned artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi in an attempt to demonstrate that not all comics are for children. Literally meaning “dramatic pictures,” the gekiga style is characterised by its realism and often-shocking plot twists. It started as an underground movement, but has since made its debut as an alternative style of manga.

Tatsumi is an animated gekiga film of sorts, inspired by and based on Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s life. In order to create the film, director Eric Khoo had his animators reproduce specific scenes from Tatsumi’s autobiographical work, A Drifting Life. Viewers are treated to an intimate view of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s life as a struggling artist, his failed relationships with members of the opposite sex, and an inside look into his journey to becoming one of the greatest manga-ka in Japan.

Tidbits from Tatsumi’s short stories are interwoven between actual recollections about Tatsumi’s life, an inclusion that is initially confusing but eventually helps viewers understand more about Tatsumi’s thought process and the ideas that influenced him to push the boundaries of what was considered traditional in the manga world.

The 94 minutes of this film will be easier to follow if you are familiar with Tatsumi’s works already, but even if you aren’t, you probably won’t find it too difficult to differentiate experience from fictional narration. So if you’re interested in post-Occupation Japan and what life was like for artists back then, this just might be the film for you.