Published Jan 24, 2013In making a documentary about Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, director Eric Khoo has immersed his work in the aesthetic environment of his subject, creating not only a uniquely compelling film that experiments with the medium but a testament to an influential man in the world of animation.
Distinguishing animation styles to divide historical context for the subject between his titled works played throughout the film, Tatsumi starts in Tatsumi's childhood, asserting that animation was a calling more so than a trade. It goes on to point out that his style, known as "gegika," was coined to identify his work as something distinct from other manga, which, at the time, primarily had a youth audience.
As we learn with "Hell," the first of 5 short stories (or admonitory works), this distinction was necessary given the gratuitous, challenging and often sexual nature of Tatsumi's work. "Hell," which is possibly the least controversial of the five stories, details the experiences of a military photographer who is documenting the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. In finding success with his works—indirectly exploiting tragedy for personal gain—the photographer is inevitably punished by moralistic irony.
As Tatsumi progresses through the five works, noting the animator's tendency to draw pornographic graffiti in public washrooms, a preoccupation with a profane and taboo becomes evident. Incest comes up, as does dismemberment, overwrought personal tragedy and the slaughtering of beloved pets. But what's overriding is the concept of punishment for those that attempt to escape the confines of their socially imposed limitations, which tends to tie in with concepts of globalization.
In tackling his subject without embellishment, acknowledging the less admirable attributes of this prurient man, Eric Khoo has created a compelling work unto itself. Without spelling out themes or politics, he has juxtaposed the history of a man with his art so astutely that we're able to draw conclusions on our own.