Abandon the Old in Tokyo (1970)

This is a different world from the one I have been used to seeing in manga. In this, the second volume in Drawn and Quarterly's collection of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's work, someone vomits in virtually every story. Sometime it is pregnancy, sometime drunkenness, sometimes self-disgust, sometimes fear, but this is a world of retching and churning.

Tatsumi himself was the first to declare the difference between his fictional-realist world and the performance of dignity that often takes precedence in Japan's self-conception through manga. In 1957 he coined a new term to set his work and other alternative comics traditions in Japan in opposition to manga: gekiga. These were comics for adults, distributed differently (through lending libraries) than manga, dealing with uncomfortable subjects - brutal sexuality and violent alienation.

Indeed this is a world permeated by sexual anxiety, and unmediated by dream or fantasy. It is a world in which secrets are stripped bare: in one story a window washer witnesses his daughter's affair with her boss through a newly clean window and reacts (naturally!) by ripping her clothes off when she comes home and shoving her into a shower to be scrubbed down. In another, a comics artist can only find inspiration from the bawdy graffiti scrawled in a public bathroom (whose design - a flowing canal over which the user squats - seems more metaphorically direct about the scatological quality of artistic creation than the toilets we are accustomed to would be), and is caught sketching there by a total stranger. These are lives of tangled claustrophobia, filled to painfulness with other people and yet utterly lonely. The only people who ever reach out to the isolated everymen who fill Tatsumi's pages turn out to be whores.

As you can probably tell from these brief descriptions, there is often something contrived about the plots of these stories, which make up for their obviousness in abundant unpleasantness. The great strain seems to be in creating these harsh plot-lines, in violating the taboo, rather than in making the violation intricate. Drawn and Quarterly has laid out a project that involves publishing, each year, a collection of comics from one year of Tatsumi's career. The first was The Pushman and Other Stories (1969, publ. in English by D&Q in 2005), and this book represents 1970. I hold out hope for future years, for a boldness already present, matched with an intricacy sadly missed.

Abandon the Old in Tokyo (1970)
Yoshihiro Tatsumi
trans. from the Japanese by Yuji Oniki (2006)

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