‘Tatsumi’ is, most appropriately, a manga-like film that depicts the life of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the founder of Gekiga (‘Dramatic Pictures’) comics in 1957, which was a major departure from manga for kids. Telling gritty realistic tales of adults, not without the necessary sex and violence, it made comics a more mature storytelling medium in Japan. No longer was comics just the funny pages in the papers and periodicals. Gekiga was food for solemn reflection ‘disguised’ in a lighter, more graphical form.
I had finished reading ‘A Drifting Life’ by Tatsumi, which the film was partly based upon, which includes five of his classic Gekiga tales. Though they are definitely more dramatic in nature than his real life, both the main and side stories had a common theme. They are filled with the foreboding sense of Dukkha, the Buddhist term for the reality of existential dissatisfaction or suffering being abound. The atmosphere is dark and gloomy, with little reason for cheer, though there are brief moments with the glimmer of hope.
I generally enjoyed Tatsumi’s comics (that I have read so far) and the film, but seeing the empty-ish theatre screening this Singapore’s entry for the Oscars, I can understand how his material might not be universally appealing… due to the simple fact that most who go to the movies do so as an escape, for entertainment instead of reflection on the human condition. The stories shown do not have happy resolutions too, that most would hope for. Are they pessimistic? Maybe. But life is really like so sometimes, though a happy ending is still realistically possible when life goes on with lessons learnt.
If meant to feature nothing other than the imperfections of life, Gekiga tales could be doing the job perfectly. But to be truly balanced and realistic, shouldn’t more hope be added to the plots? Tatsumi had remarked that if a film is made based only on his spun tales, the audience might commit suicide after watching! It’s somewhat sad that Tatsumi titled his autobiography ‘A Drifting Life’, as it hints that he still sees his life as that of one adrift in this transient world? He is working on the sequel though, on the later parts of his life. Currently ill, it is somewhat a race against time. May he find more ‘Nirvana’ than Dukkha in his Gekiga – in good time!