Monday, January 7, 2013

Deceased--Keiji Nakazawa

Keiji Nakazawa
March 14th, 1939 to December 19th, 2012

"Keiji Nakazawa dies at 73; Japanese artist of comic 'Barefoot Gen'"

He used memories of surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to create a gruesome, yet hope-driven magnum opus about a boy who lived through the 1945 attack.


Marisa Gerber

January 6th, 2013

Los Angeles Times

Images of a city smoldering and a river clogged with pale, radioactive cadavers never left Keiji Nakazawa's mind.

The Japanese manga, or comic-book, artist used those images and other memories of surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, to create "Barefoot Gen," a gruesome, yet hope-driven comic about a boy, who like Nakazawa, survived the Aug. 6, 1945, attack.

Nakazawa was a first-grader standing outside of his school when the United States dropped the bomb that killed more than 100,000 people, including his father, brother and a sister. He survived, as did his mother, but radiation sent her into premature labor. His newborn sister died days after the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that effectively ended World War II.

Nakazawa, who since the 1970s had used "Barefoot Gen" to make a case against nuclear proliferation, died Dec. 19 of lung cancer at a hospital in Hiroshima, according to Japanese news reports. He was 73.

"It touched nerves on both sides of the Pacific," animation critic and historian Charles Solomon said of "Barefoot Gen." "Not only for its subject matter, but for the idea that a comic book could present this type of material and present it very powerfully."

"I wanted to put down on paper the scenes engraved in my mind,"
Nakazawa told Tokyo's Daily Yomiuri newspaper in 2009. "Everybody says the atomic bomb was terrible, but I wanted to use manga to show people just how terrible it actually was."

His 10-volume magnum opus, which has been translated into several languages and adapted into films, cast blame for the bombing on both the United States and Japan and alluded to his longing for world peace.

In one scene, the title character Gen, who remains cheerfully optimistic amid his suffering, peers sanguinely at a rainbow arching over the sun. He daydreams of a peaceful world, "where people cross freely over those rainbow bridges and talk to each other as friends."

Like his comic alter ego, Nakazawa advocated for peace.

At a 2009 party celebrating a complete, revised translation of the manga into English, Nakazawa said: "We've translated Gen with the hope that a large number of English speakers will read it. I hope people will realize through Gen that nuclear weapons are folly."

Born about a mile from Hiroshima's city center on March 14, 1939, Nakazawa and his mother spent the years after the bombing in poverty. He worked as a sign painter's apprentice and dreamed of a life as a manga artist.

At 22, he packed up his sketches and moved to Tokyo, where he worked at various magazines. In 1973, at the urging of the editor of the Japanese magazine Boys' Jump Monthly, he started writing "Barefoot Gen."

Personally inspired story lines — not meticulous drawings — were the forte of the self-taught artist.

"The art style is very raw," Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, said in an interview with The Times. "His work was a little bit less polished than some of his contemporaries."

In that way, Farago said, "Barefoot Gen" is reminiscent of the underground comics that flooded the U.S. market in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

What differentiated the manga most, Farago said, was its subject matter.

"Barefoot Gen" painted a painful and true account of suffering during a post-World War II Japan that longed for escapism.

In 1976, when parts of the manga were translated and published in the United States, most readers viewed comics as a way to escape life's painful aspects, including still-raw memories of war.

"In comics, we expected super heroes or the jokes of the Walt Disney comics," Solomon said. "And here was someone using a comic book format to tell this very compelling, very personal, very powerful story of suffering, endurance, survival."

Nakazawa's other characters also bucked trends.

In "Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen," the artist's 2010 autobiography translated by Richard H. Minear, Nakazawa said he once created a protagonist to contrast the macho male roles he often saw in manga.

"As a counter,"
Nakazawa wrote, "I thought, how about a nerdy, weak boy?"
Manga was his platform to challenge the norm and incite change.

"I'm a cartoonist, so cartoons are my only weapon,"
he wrote in his autobiography. "Doubt is extremely strong, but we have to feel that change is possible."

Keiji Nakazawa [Wikipedia]

Barefoot Gen [Wikipedia]

Entire 1983 film...

"‘Barefoot Gen’: Keiji Nakazawa’s moving autobiography singed by emotion"


Charles Solomon

June 3rd, 2011

Los Angeles Times

REVIEW:  ”Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen”

Seven-year-old Keiji Nakazawa was on his way to school in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, when he stopped to answer a question from a classmate’s mother. Before he could reply, “a pale light like the flash of a flashbulb camera, white at the center, engulfed me, a great ball of light with yellow and red mixed at its out edge.”

The next thing he knew, he was half-buried in rubble with a six-inch nail driven through his cheek. Because he was standing behind a foot-thick concrete wall, Nakazawa  survived. The charred body of his friend’s mother lay nearby.

The horrors Nakazawa saw in the ruined city, the poverty and suffering he  endured in postwar Japan, including discrimination against bomb victims,  haunted him for the rest of life — and became the material for his landmark 10-volume manga “Barefoot Gen.” In his moving autobiography, ”Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen” (translated and edited by Richard H. Minear, Rowman & Littlefield: $34.95) Nakazawa recounts how he transformed his experiences into the adventures of his alter-ago Gen Nakaoka.

Nakazawa fondly recalls his father, an artist whose outspoken antiwar views led to his imprisonment by Japan’s dreaded wartime thought police. His long-suffering mother struggled to keep the family fed. Gen’s parents exhibit the same stubborn strength and love. Gen never forgets his father’s admonition to emulate the wheat they plant in a tiny garden: Even when it’s trampled, the wheat “grows straight and tall … and one day bears fruit.”

Nakazawa altered some his experiences to heighten the drama of “Barefoot Gen.” He wasn’t present when his mother had to abandon his father and younger brother in the burning ruins of their house. Nor was he present at the birth of his younger sister (the blast sent his mother into labor). But he did endure horrors that can be described only as hell on Earth. The reader shudders at the recollections of a terrified first-grader wandering among hideously burned blast victims, collecting the bones of his father for the family tomb, or feeding his family by catching crayfish among the skeletons that littered river beds in Hiroshima–knowing the crayfish had gorged on human flesh.

Like Gen, Nakazawa began his artistic career as an apprentice to a hot-tempered sign painter, but at 22, after the premature death of his mother from the after-effects of radiation exposure, he moved to Tokyo and became a manga artist. Although he achieved a minor success, first as an assistant, then as an artist in his own right, he was haunted by the suffering he had witnessed Neither the Japanese nor the Americans seemed to have learned the terrible lessons of the atomic bomb. He needed to channel his rage and sorrow into his art: “Courage welled up: ‘The only thing I’m good at is manga. I’ll do battle through manga!’ As if the demons had fallen away, I calmed down… “

Nakazawa’s first attempt to deal with his nightmarish past was the manga “Pelted by Black Rain” (a reference to the toxic black precipitation that fell after the explosion), which was initially rejected by publishers as “too intense.” Other Hiroshima stories followed, in counterpoint to his mass market work for manga magazines and the animation industry. Unfortunately, “Hiroshima” includes examples of only “Barefoot Gen,” rather than Nakazawa’s lesser known works.

A request by the editors of “Boys’ Jump Monthly“ that each manga artist to draw his autobiography led Nakazawa to begin “Barefoot Gen” in June, 1973. The response was overwhelmingly favorable, and first book was published two years later. It took Nakazawa 14 years to complete his story.

The first four volumes of “Barefoot Gen” appeared in English in 1976, making it one of the first manga published in America. Finishing the series took decades. All 10 volumes are available from Last Gasp of San Francisco in a new translation prepared by volunteers that was completed in 2009. The delay might be partially due to Nakazawa’s uncompromising political stance. Speaking through Gen, he repeatedly condemns the American decision to drop the atomic bomb, and accuses the U.S. military of using Japanese civilians as guinea pigs to test the long-term effects of radiation, in case of an attack on the U.S.

In every volume of “Gen,” Nakazawa damns Emperor Hirohito and his advisors for starting the war. But in “Hiroshima,” he reveals that a screening of Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” made him realize the folly of their aggression. “… learning that it was made, in color, before the war, I was speechless at the splendor of America’s power. To go to war with that America! I had no sympathy for the bunch of fools who were Japan’s wartime leaders. That Japan would lose was a foregone conclusion.”

“Barefoot Gen” has been an enormously influential work. Its readership in Japan is estimated in the tens of millions, and it has been translated into several languages. The story has been adapted to a three-part live-action film, two animated features and a two-part television drama.

But its power lies in its uncompromising honesty, rather than its visuals. In his Introduction to Volume 1 of “Barefoot Gen,” Art Spiegelman, the creator “Maus,” accurately assesses the weaknesses and strengths of Nakazawa’s drawings: “His draftsmanship is somewhat graceless, even homely, and without much nuance, but it gets the job done. It is clear and efficient, and it performs the essential magic trick of all good narrative art: the characters come to living, breathing life.” Gen feels so alive, that when he leaves Hiroshima for Tokyo at the end of Volume 10, the reader feels like an old friend is saying good-bye.

At a time when the threat of nuclear attack remains frighteningly high and Japan faces the crisis caused by the damaged reactors at Fukushima, Nakazawa’s story — in both its real and fictionalized forms — takes on an added immediacy. “Barefoot Gen” and “Hiroshima” suggest home-grown flowers on the grave of the Nakazawa family–and the tens of thousands of others who died in Hiroshima 66  years ago.

No comments: