I'm one of those hold-outs you hear about; one of those unconverted. I appreciate the place graphic novels and the like have in literature, feel it's deserved and certainly expanding, but I'm just not much of a reader of them. When it happens that I do pick one up, the problem is I bolt the book. I read the bursts of text and look at the artwork for only the barest information. I don't know if Tatsumi will change the way or degree to which I read visual lit, but it was a great experience to have my hand held on a stroll through this movement.
In North America there's been this underground struggle (which has now entered the mainstream) to have a clear line drawn between comics and graphic novels. It may not be news to you like it was to me that a similar fractioning occurred in Japan--predating, I believe, the revolution in our hemisphere--with manga and gekiga. Translated, manga gives us "irresponsible pictures," and gekiga "dramatic pictures." At the forefront of this ideological schism was Yoshihiro Tatsumi, whose life and work we're concerned with here. As a youngster, he flourished with irresponsibility, but as an adult found that his form didn't jibe with the changes that were occurring both in Japan and the world. In his Gekiga Manifesto (which I can only find quotes of online) he writes,
Story manga has been vitalized through the influence exerted by the supersonic development of other media such as film, television, and radio.... Manga and gekiga differ in methodology, but perhaps, more importantly, in their readerships. The demand for manga, written for adolescents, i.e., those readers between childhood and adulthood, has never been answered, because there has never been a forum for such writings. The hitherto neglected reader segment is gekiga's intended target.And this target was a youth culture that was becoming increasingly political in the 60s, whose own stories were increasingly dramatic.
Tatsumi draws from Tatsumi's autobiography, A Drifting Life, and intersperses it with animations of his short stories. The autobiographical interstitials can rely sometime too heavily on foreknowledge of the artist and his contexts, but are nonetheless interesting. For the uninitiated, like myself, the film is worth your while for Tastumi's stories, of which there are five: "Hell," "Beloved Monkey," "Just a Man," "Occupied," and "Good-bye." Context aside, these are some of the most compelling, engaging, sometimes parabolic stories I've lately been exposed to. The five stories are at times Bukowskian in their grimness and griminess, each with an almost EC Comics-like twist morality ending. For sheer storytelling prowess alone, Tatsumi is worth the initiated and uninitiated's time.
You may be, like me, essentially out of step with the revolutions in storytelling that have been happening under and aboveground for decades, or you may be entrenched in this stuff. Whatever your affiliation, Tatsumi comes across as a celebration and exploration of storytelling, and of the man who had the right kind of knife to carve out a way to do it.