Thursday, August 1, 2013

Abandon the Old in Tokyo

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I'm not sure I was prepared for the utter bleakness of the stories collected in Abandon the Old in Tokyo.  I've read a few of Tatsumi's books now, most notably A Drifting Life, but I still didn't expect that his work would be quite this dark.

Tatsumi uses these stories, which originally saw publication in the 1970s, to explore the growing sense of isolation in Tokyo's cities, and the pressures placed on young men to be successful and happy.  His protagonists usually look the same in each story, giving the impression that we are seeing the same poor sap again and again.  His protagonists are also often silent or men of very few words; they allow others to shape their existences, be they demanding fiancés, infirm parents, creditors, or unfriendly editors.  Again and again we see these poor guys get beaten down, until they make some questionable life choices.

The most disturbing story in this book is 'The Hole', in which our protagonist is tricked into falling into a hole on a mountain, where a woman with a burned face and chest holds him captive for reasons that are never made clear.  Things get really twisted when the man's wife shows up, but insists she will only help him if he gives up his plans to divorce her.

Often when reading manga, I feel a cultural disconnect with the characters.  That's not the case here, as Tatsumi focuses on the problems of the modern condition; in many ways, this work is as relevant in post-recession North America as it was in post-war Japan.  This is a disturbing book, but it has been made by a master of the art form, and for that reason, it is a worthy read.

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