Saturday, March 21, 2015

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Japanese mangaka Yoshihiro Tatsumi poses during a photo session at the 64th Cannes Film Festival in 2011. CreditGuillaume Baptiste/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a Japanese cartoonist whose dark, psychologically astute tales helped establish the genre of adult comics and graphic novels, died on March 7 in Tokyo. He was 79.
The cause was cancer, said Peggy Burns, a spokeswoman for Drawn & Quarterly, Mr. Tatsumi’s English-language publisher.
Mr. Tatsumi is best known in the United States for the memoir “A Drifting Life,” published in Japan in 2008 and in English translation in 2009. A mammoth illustrated work, it draws heavily on the details of Mr. Tatsumi’s own early life, beginning at the end of World War II, when he was 10 and Japanese popular culture was awash in the serialized illustrated stories known as manga.

Manga, largely aimed at children (though enjoyed by many of their elders as well), was by tradition limited in both its illustrative and narrative possibilities, with a recognizable if not entirely uniform style of drawing (characters with wide eyes and small mouths) and a simplistic range of emotional and intellectual concerns.
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Drawing from "A Drifting Life" by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Creditvia Drawn & Quarterly
Mr. Tatsumi grew up in this tradition, drawing manga as a child and publishing as a teenager. But by the time he was in his early 20s, he had begun producing stories with more adult concerns, part of a Japanese movement that predated the American underground comics of the 1960s and beyond created by the likes of R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman.
Often cited as an innovator, Mr. Tatsumi was one of a group of young writers and illustrators who, in the late 1950s, created a manga subgenre — Mr. Tatsumi christened it “gekiga” — that dealt, realistically and dramatically, with subjects like sex and violence, behavioral motives like greed and betrayal and emotions like anguish and regret.
In “A Drifting Life,” Mr. Tatsumi wrote that he had been influenced by the gritty American novelist Mickey Spillane and the bad guy played by Jack Palance in the film “Shane.” He often went to the movies when a story he was writing had ground to a halt, and the influence of cinematic imagery and technique, especially in the dramatic interplay of light and shadow, is recognizable in his work.

The stories had their pulpy elements, to be sure. But Mr. Tatsumi was a shrewd observer of his national culture. He created protagonists who were mostly of the undistinguished, unheroic variety — an unhappily married corporate manager, soon to retire, already forgotten and seeking an unlikely romantic thrill; an out-of-work cartoonist who finds himself obsessed with vulgar graffiti on a restroom wall; a lonely factory worker who loses an arm.
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Drawing from "A Drifting Life" by Yoshihiro Tatsumi.Creditvia Drawn & Quarterly
Drawn with clarity and an often somber or strained mien expressive of life’s burdens (though he portrayed himself in a blander, Clark Kentish vein), the stories represent a kind of silent, grief-stricken desperation prevalent in a modernizing, urban-centered Japan.
In one story, “Hell,” a photographer who had become famous for an image captured after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima — it depicts a shadow, seared into a wall, of what seems to be a son affectionately massaging his mother’s shoulders — learns that the true story behind the shadow is in fact more sinister, and he commits a murder to keep the secret. Living for years with his guilt, he becomes a symbol of official Japan’s exploitation of the national tragedy. “Hell” was dramatized in “Tatsumi” (2011), an animated biographical documentary.
Mr. Tatsumi was born in Osaka on June 10, 1935. His father was the manager of a laundry but, according to “A Drifting Life,” not a constant figure at home. Yoshihiro graduated from high school in Osaka before moving to Tokyo. His survivors include his wife, Eiko Tatsumi, and a sister, Michiko Tatsumi.
Mr. Tatsumi’s first full-length book, “Black Blizzard,” published in Japan in 1956 (but not in English until 2010), is about a young musician falsely convicted of murder whose prison-bound train is derailed in an avalanche, allowing his escape through the snow. His other works include the collections “Abandon the Old in Tokyo,” “Good-Bye,” “The Pushman and Other Stories” and, more recently, “Fallen Words,” a wry set of moral tales published in 2009, after “A Drifting Life.”
A portrait of the artist as a young man, covering the years from 1945 to 1960 and translated by Taro Nettleton, “A Drifting Life,” doorstop-size at more than 800 pages, was the winner of an Eisner award (the comics-industry equivalent of the Oscar) for best reality-based work. It was widely viewed as the crowning triumph — “the big kahuna,” as Dwight Garner of The New York Times called it — of Mr. Tatsumi’s career.
“It’s a book that manages to be, all at once, an insider’s history of manga, a mordant cultural tour of post-Hiroshima Japan and a scrappy portrait of a struggling artist,” Mr. Garner wrote. “It’s a big, fat, greasy tub of salty popcorn for anyone interested (as Americans increasingly are) in the theory and practice of Japanese comics. It’s among this genre’s signal achievements.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/13/arts/yoshihiro-tatsumi-japanese-cartoonist-of-dark-stories-is-dead-at-79.html?_r=0

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