Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Review: The disturbing beauty of ‘Tatsumi’

Dir: Eric Khoo
Prod: Greg Chew, Tan Fong Cheng, Gary Goh, Eric Khoo, Jacqueline Khoo, Phil Mitchell, Esaf Andreas Sinaulan, Brian Gothong Tan, James Toh, Michael Weber, Mike Wiluan, Kim Hoh Wong, Masato Yamamoto, Freddie Yeo

One of the most beautiful, sad, and disturbing films you may never see is Eric Khoo’s “Tatsumi.” This distinctive animated biography transcends the genre with the daring and unsparing depiction of the life and work of its subject.

The late Yoshihiro Tatsumi was a pioneer of the alternate manga genre of gekiga, a gritty form of serious graphic storytelling intended for adults. His epic, award-winning graphic memoir, “A Drifting Life,” made his body of work more visible to the general public.

Tatsumi’s landscape is a wasted one, rising with his consciousness out of the ashes of post-WWII Japan. Growing up in the shadow of his idol and mentor, “godfather of manga” Osamu Tezuka, he mastered the lighthearted and innocent style of early manga, but felt compelled to explore darker avenues. As early as 1957, Tatsumi was crafting realistic explorations of contemporary life, struggling for over a decade before gaining some popular acceptance.

Khoo’s love-letter movie was made with Tatsumi’s active cooperation, allowing him to transform some of his classic stories into film. With effective audacity, Khoo shapes his biographical tribute as an animated feature in Tatsumi’s style, interspersing Tatsumi’s own narration with five of his stories, set to motion – “Hell,” “Beloved Monkey,” “Occupied,” “Just a Man,” and “Goodbye.” These deal graphically (as you might expect) with such extremely uncomfortable subjects as incest, impotence, murder, obscenity, and exploitation.

However, Tatsumi’s work is far from gratuitously transgressive. He was a great storyteller, a master of twist and pathos. All his characters are painfully human. These are comics neither for children nor for immature adults. The same is true of the film, which hopefully will find its fans here and there.

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