Posts Tagged ‘Abandon The Old In Tokyo’

I got ‘Abandon the Old in Tokyo‘ by Yoshihiro Tatsumi as a present from a friend sometime back. When I was thinking of reading a graphic novel today, I decided to pick it up.

Japanese writers believe in presenting stories in comic form. They are pioneers in it. Comics probably occupies a bigger literary landscape in Japan than regular books – there are probably more readers of comics there than there are readers of other kinds of books. One of the reasons for this is that there are comics written for both kids and grown-ups. Writing comics for grownups was a quintessentially Japanese thing, before others started copying it. Sometimes these comics weren’t just fictional stories but were biographies and memoirs. The Japanese were much ahead of comics writers from other countries on this front – in presenting nonfiction books in comic form.

Why this long rambling passage on Japanese comics? Because this book is a perfect example of Japanese comics. It has eight stories. It doesn’t tell one story in eight chapters. It has eight short stories told in comics form. It defies the norm that a comics story should be long, should have a longer narrative arc. Who defies the norm, who writes a comics short story collection? A Japanese writer, of course.

The first thing about this collection of stories is that it is not for children. The stories are on themes which are of more interest to grownups. One of the stories might make even grownups squirm with discomfort. The first story ‘Occupied‘ is about a comics writer who loses his job. What he does when he hears this news forms the rest of the story. ‘Abandon the old in Tokyo‘, the title story, is about a young man who takes care of his old mother. His mother is domineering and tries her best to make him feel guilty and hold on to him and not let him go. Our young man is engaged to a young woman though. How our young man manages his relationship with the two women in his life forms the rest of the story. This was probably my most favourite story in the book. ‘The Washer‘ is about a man who washes windows of tall buildings. One day when he is washing a particular window, he notices that his daughter is inside that apartment and she is having an affair with someone. What this window washer does about it forms the rest of the story. ‘Beloved Monkey‘ is about a worker in a factory who has a pet monkey. It is a beautiful story about modern life in a big city in which a person feels alienated and lonely. It reminded me a lot of the Vittorio De Sica movie ‘Umberto D.‘ ‘Unpaid‘ is the story about an old man whose business goes under and who is hounded by creditors. This is the story with some shocking scenes. I won’t tell you what they are. It is a heartbreaking story. ‘The Hole‘ is almost a horror story – it is dark and scary and gripping. ‘Forked Road‘ is about a young man who is always drunk and we are taken back to his past to find out what happened to him which made him be this way. ‘Eel‘ is the story of a young man who works as a sewer cleaner.

One common feature across most of the stories is this – there is a young man who lives in a big city which is undergoing major change and modernization, he feels lonely and alienated from others inspite of the hustle and bustle around, he is awkward with women, he is introverted, his life is hard. This is the central feature of most of the stories. Alienation and loneliness are key themes in every story. How the story’s central character reacts to this alienation and loneliness is the main part of the story. It is beautifully and realistically told and sometimes it is insightful, and at other times it is heartbreaking. Yoshihiro Tatsumi says this in the interview featured at the end of the book, about his storytelling style –

“My basic approach was to come up with a ‘bleak story’ gekiga style that completely eliminated the requisite gags and humor so prominent in mainstream manga. The gag style defied realism. Unlike my contemporaries, I felt no need to incorporate humor into serious stories. I wanted to represent reality.”

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s artwork is beautiful – it looks deceptively simple in its quintessential Japanese style and Tatsumi plays brilliantly with light and shade throughout the book. I have included a few pages below to give you a flavour of the artwork and the stories. There is also an insightful one page introduction at the beginning of the book by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the acclaimed ‘Ring‘ trilogy.

Beloved Monkey – 1

Beloved Monkey – 2

Beloved Monkey – 3

Beloved Monkey – 4

Forked Road – beautiful play of light and shade

Eel – 1

Eel – 2

I loved ‘Abandon the old in Tokyo‘. I discovered that more of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work has been translated into English, including his memoir. I can’t wait to read them.

Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

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