As a documentary, "Tatsumi" is easily one of the more unorthodox projects that I've encountered lately. And I mean that as a huge compliment because I was very impressed by Eric Khoo's portrait of Japanese Manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi. While I was not particularly familiar with Tatsumi's legacy, that did not lessen my interest in the film. A pioneer in Gekiga (which is a more realistic, adult themed Manga), Tatsumi has lived his life for his art. This tribute succeeds as a biography, as an introduction to his work, and as a peek behind the artistic process. Ostensibly, the primary portion of the movie is a dramatization of Tatsumi's memoir "A Drifting Life" but this material is interspersed with five classic tales of post-war Japan brought to life. The stories don't interrupt the biographical material, instead they enhance it. By showcasing Tatsumi's fiction, it gives the viewer a better understanding of the man and his art. It's a fascinating approach and one that really works. Nominated for the prestigious Un Certain Regard Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and Singapore's entry for consideration as Best Foreign Film for the 2012 Oscars, this is a evocative presentation that really surprised me with how much I enjoyed it.
The five included short films are:
1) Hell: A man snaps a picture in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing that captivates the nation and becomes an icon, but sometimes images can be decieving.
2) Beloved Monkey: A factory worker experiences his share of troubles, but parting ways with his pet monkey may have the most devastating results imaginable.
3) Just A Man: An upright businessman on the eve of retirement decides to smite his greedy wife with a plot to spend his earnings on masculine pursuits.
4) Goodbye: The harrowing tale of a prostitute embittered by her experiences with foreign soldiers has her sinking to unpleasant depths of despair.
5) Occupied: The tale of a beleaguered Manga artist who finally starts to embrace his passion and let himself experience a darker and more adult side of his psyche.
As I mentioned, these sequences are introduced at different points in the film and correlate to Tatsumi's own experiences. Tatsumi, himself, narrates the biographical segments (it's in Japanese with English subtitles) and I learned quite a bit about his life and thought processes as well as the changing cultural landscape that surrounded him. In many ways, this stands as a comment about how the arts have evolved in Japan as the economic climate in the country has gone through a drastic metamorphosis. Overall, this was a worthwhile and adult experience that I highly recommend for any myriad of reasons. It's educational, incisive, and also entertaining. About 4 1/2 stars. I didn't know anything about the movie "Tatsumi" before watching it, but I'm glad I took the chance. KGHarris, 5/13.