Tatsumi chronicles the manga artist’s life and psychologically dark work.
TATSUMI (Eric Khoo). 96 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (January 25). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNN
Shifting between episodes drawn from graphic novelist Yoshihiro Tatsumi's manga memoir A Drifting Life and dramatizations of the author's macabre stories, Eric Khoo's Tatsumi is a beautifully animated hybrid melding biography (narrated by Tatsumi himself) and fiction to diverting effect.
Diverting, but not very deep. The links between Tatsumi's life and his twisty, pessimistic tales of alienation in postwar Japan are given nothing like their deserved exploration. Likewise, there's a peculiar, at times annoying, dissonance between the psychological darkness of Tatsumi's work and Khoo's sentimental approach to Tatsumi's reminiscences, replete with a corny piano and synth-string-laden score.
The biographical sections constitute the film's weaker moments, though knowing the difficulties Tatsumi experienced forging a career in the nascent realm of adult-oriented manga, or gekiga (a term Tatsumi coined) provides useful background.
The drawing style might bear some vague resemblance to Astroboy's, but this ain't kiddie stuff. In Hell, a photographer discovers the fine line between mercy killing and murder; in Beloved Monkey, a factory worker loses an arm and unwittingly facilitates the brutal killing of his only friend. In Goodbye, a sex worker winds up seducing her dad.
All of Tatsumi's women seem to be evil schemers and prostitutes, all of his men paranoid, emasculated losers. It's a sad, lonesome, nasty world, which Khoo brings to life in images crafted with great fidelity to the source material.