out of Five
Running time: 94
Engaging, entertaining and beautifully animated, Tatsumi is a treat for fans and is likely to make converts of newcomers, though it's more successful as a showcase for his stories than as a documentary or biopic.
What's it all about?
Directed by Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo (and, amusingly for EastEnders fans, produced by Phil Mitchell), Tatsumi is an animated feature that explores the life and work of manga artist Tatsumi, who created the genre of gekiga (basically darker, adult-themed manga comics aimed at adults) after the publication of his first manga comic in the 1940s.
Interwoven with various biographical details (such as his relationship with his idol Osamu Tezuka) are five of Tatsumi's best stories: Hell (in which a photographer becomes famous for taking an iconic photo in the aftermath of Hiroshima, only to discover, to his horror, that the photo actually depicts something much darker); Beloved Monkey (about a factory worker who loses his arm, falls for a prostitute and is unable to support his pet monkey); Just A Man (about a resentful soon-to-retire husband who vows to cheat on his wife with a pretty co-worker, only to find himself impotent at the crucial moment); Occupied (about an artist obsessed with obscene toilet graffiti); and Good Bye (about a prostitute who falls for an American soldier during the US occupation).
The five stories are beautifully animated and have strongly resonant themes, particularly Hell and Just A Man. Alongside the frank and often depressing depictions of sex, they are extremely dark in tone, playing out like sting-in-the-tail Twilight Zone episodes, though they're also shot through with jet-black humour (that said, animal lovers may want to avert their eyes for the end of Beloved Monkey).
Where the film is less successful is in the biographical side, since we actually learn very little about Tatsumi's life (he makes a real-life appearance at the end, still working at the age of 75) and the transitions between the biopic sections and the stories are a little clunky. It's also a shame there isn't a little more commentary and context for the stories themselves.
Tatsumi is a beautifully animated, frequently moving film that is a treat for fans of Tatsumi's work and is likely to send newcomers scurrying to their nearest comic shop. Recommended.