A fragmented, animated bio-retrospective that coaxes the illustrations of Yoshihiro Tatsumi into life, the “bio” part of Tatsumi is heavily drawn from the artist’s recent graphic novel memoir, A Drifting Life. Director Eric Khoo alternates between Tatsumi’s postwar childhood in a decimated Japan (with the 76-year-old subject himself narrating) and the very adult stories he would go on to tell about that period. The contrast is sometimes disorienting: Where the young Tatsumi contends with a deadbeat father and an ailing, occasionally vindictive brother, his stories—four of which are presented here in discrete, distinctly stylized segments—are bleak worlds of urban alienation, defeated men, copious prostitutes, and faces that pour with tears and sweat. In “Beloved Monkey,” a factory worker loses one arm and uses the other to toss a pet monkey to his death; “Hell” describes how a Hiroshima photographer was driven to murder. Khoo traces both Tatsumi’s influences in the Japanese-comic-book style called manga and his movement toward a more sophisticated line of storytelling he christened gekiga. If the structure sometimes disrupts the story of his life, the strong lines and melancholy sensibility of the illustration form an anchor that keep the power of Tatsumi’s work firmly in view.
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