Curated retrospective of Osamu Tezuka's manga:
Developed for the National Gallery of Victoria - 2006 >>
 
        
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Misreading Manga
Philip Brophy

Did New Treasure Island Revolutionise Framing in Manga?
Fusanosuke Natsume

Astro Boy - Dreams and Technologies of Postwar Japan
Hiroshi Kashiwagi

Tezuka - An Artist Who Confronted His Era
Tetsuo Sakurai

Tezuka and the Origin of Story Manga
Ichiro Takeuchi

Manga History Viewed through Proto-Characteristics
Go Ito

Tezuka's Gekiga - Behind the Mask of Manga
Philip Brophy

Catalogue

Edited by Philip Brophy and published by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2006), this 156 page hardback catalogue contains:

1. A set of 6 critical essays written by English and Japanese writers, dealing with various aspects of Osamu Tezuka’s manga (with some reference to his anime)

2. A complete checklist of all 234 works exhibited in the exhibition

3. A summary bibliography

4. 66 reproductions from the exhibition

(For ordering information on this publication go direct to the NGV)

Introduction: Misreading Manga

Any Western misreading of Japan is often presumed to be a matter solely of cultural difference, but difference in Japan is so obvious, one is unlikely to misread its marked presence. The revered rituals of tea-making, flower arranging, garden raking are so clearly not of European lineage that they defy misinterpretation with their instantly recognisable oriental character.

Ironically, Japan is mostly misread when it doesn't proclaim its difference so overtly. Japan's postwar popular culture and its accelerated fusion with American consumer influences is the true locus of Western misreadings. The mere absence of the traditional gives rise to journalistic assertions of Japan being weird because it mixes tradition with technology - as if somehow Japan should portray its ancient customs alone.

If there is a prime symptom of how postwar Japan embodies this mutation between classical sediment and postmodern fissure, it would have to be manga (comics). In no other culture is the form and medium as rampant as it is in Japan (accounting for 37 per cent of all publications sold in 2004). Cutting across class, audience, gender, genre and purpose, manga is ubiquitous: the most popular of weekly collections - each usually containing about twenty serialised manga by different artists - can sell up to 3 million copies.

While many outside of Japan would be familiar with the pervasiveness of manga, there has been scant proper account of the form's origins, development, reception and status over the last eighty years. Internationally manga is recognised ostensibly as an Eastern counterpart to Western comics. Similarities exist, though each is weighted and oriented by vastly differing histories and determining social factors.

Manga and comics do not mirror each other culturally. (Blunt symmetrical pairing of the two would be like qualifying sushi as uncooked mini-hamburgers but with fish.) Rather, manga and comics are portals to parallel plateaux of mass-communication and personal expression. While comics remain tethered to gag strips, situational comedy, political cartooning and satirical illustration, manga extends well beyond those parodic bases to incorporate novelistic, literate, poetic and cinematic modes of narrative engagement.

The salient difference between the two is a matter of range, scale and appreciation: despite its irrevocable mass media image, manga is perceived in Japan as capable of a far wider communicative scope by both artists and their audiences than is either imagined or allowed in the West. Consequently, the finer appreciation of manga outside of Japan requires overt recontextualisation.

Introducing Tezuka

What better way to address this than presenting a major retrospective in a Western art gallery on TEZUKA Osamu (1928-1989), Japan's most important manga artist. The exhibition Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga, developed by and for the National Gallery of Victoria, is at once an introductory celebration of this artist's unique vision in manga and a critical marker for how we in the West can further our understanding of the power of manga through the Tezuka's talents.

Tezuka's career parallels the growth of the manga industry to such an extent that his life is inextricably entwined with the postwar formation of manga. Early works like New Treasure Island (Shin takarashima), 1947, helped channel the explosion of the Osaka-based akabon red-book manga rental system of the late 1940s. This in turn led to an incorporation of novelistic and cinematic structures into manga serialisations like Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu) for the Tokyo-based competitive weekly and monthly magazines. Concurrently, works like Princess Knight (Ribon no kishi) amplified the hitherto mute market of shojo manga (girls' comics) in the mid 1950s, while works like Jungle Emperor (Jungeru taitei) (referred to in the West as Kimba the White Lion) articulated humanist themes in the guise of cute animal manga for young children.

By the 1960s Tezuka had attained mainstream success through the manifold manga commissions he had received from a wide range of publishers. He also responded to changes in Japan's post-occupation social climate by developing gekiga (adult pictures) manga of deepening and sometimes disturbing political and philosophical content. Titles as varied as Black Jack (Burakku Jakku), Eulogy to Kirihito (Kirihito sanka) and MW (Mu) were topical enough to be embraced equally by general audiences and university students. All these strands of Tezuka's notable work - most of them successful, some unabashedly experimental - culminate in his meta-works instigated toward the end of the sixties and serialised for years beyond: Buddha and Phoenix (Hi no tori). Their densely patterned meld of cosmology, folklore, history, politics and psychology capitalised on Tezuka's drive for concentrated dramatic energy and the explosive thematic consequences of his open-ended arrangement of plot, character and setting.

Tezuka was an internationalist by strategy yet wholly Japanese by practice. His outward declaration of preference for the emotional impact of American movies allowed into Japan during the postwar occupation by the Allied Powers is only slightly based on desiring to emulate American conventions. More to the point, his fascination with America's cinematic sensationalism can be equated to the high impact American pop culture had on Japan after being banned from its shores during the repressive war years. Tezuka's appreciation of Hollywood was always less about an alignment with US-styled universalism and more about discerning effective mechanics in storytelling which he employed to stretch manga form into unimagined shapes.

Presenting pages

The exhibition Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga is equally moulded by these aims to contextualise manga for a Western audience and the intention to critically posit Tezuka as an artist clearly aware of manga's greater potential as a trans-cultural form of communication. The exhibition is presented in three sections to allow audiences space to consider manga along these lines.

The first section is a simple introduction to manga form. Making no assumptions of an audience's exposure to manga, excerpts of Tezuka's work are presented to demonstrate the power and complexity by which manga in his hands generates heightened effects. From solitary frames posterised within a single full page to pages with scintillating framing and sequencing, followed by three-page selections which create more complex movement and action.

The second section covers the titles by which Tezuka would be best known in the West and presents works from which he produced anime (animation) TV series and films. Many of these titles a Western audience might presume to be American productions due to their voice dubbing. In Japan, Tezuka's anime has always been viewed in relation to his manga, and this section of the exhibition will give audiences a chance to see the origins of what became anime programs.

The third section covers a selection of Tezuka's gekiga work produced between the late 1960s and late 1980s. Gekiga (literally, dramatic pictures) is a more seriously toned, adult-oriented narrative form of manga that stresses realistic effect and emotional impact, as opposed to the visual symbolism and high-keyed archetypes displayed in early postwar manga. While manga (comic pictures) is the umbrella term for all Japanese comics, gekiga (drama pictures) is often viewed as a branch within manga. This section of the exhibition is designed to acquaint audiences with the deeper power of manga.

Across 150,000 drawn pages (collected in the 400 volumes of Tezuka's works by Kodansha Publishing), Tezuka's manga has evolved a peculiar post-atomic fusion of Eastern calligraphic sensibility and Western narrative iconography. Like the multitude of metamorphosing beings which populate his stories, his manga is emblematic of Japanese postwar identity and symbolic of Tezuka's own transformation of image/text narration. Rewiring occidental cinematic machinery with oriental philosophical energy, his manga constitutes an active and vital demonstration of a non-Eurocentric postmodernism, marking Tezuka as an artist well due acknowledgement in the Western art world.




Complete contents of this page © Philip Brophy (All images © Tezuka Productions)