Tatsumi (2011)

3.5 stars

Khoo’s loyal fans and Tatsumi’s cult followers will lap up this highly-personal animated film.

Dir. Eric Khoo
2011 | Singapore | Animation/Biography/Drama | 94 mins | Japanese
M18 (passed clean) for sexual scenes

Cast: Tetsuya Bessho, Motoko Gollent, Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Plot: A story based on the life and short stories of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a mangaka known for his gekiga style of alternate Japanese manga.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
International Sales: The Match Factory / Zhao Wei Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse


Review #660

(Reviewed in theatres – first published 18 Sep 2011)

Spoilers: Mild

The first local animation feature to hit the rare bar of quality belongs to Eric Khoo’s new film, Tatsumi. In competition at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard category, Tatsumi is a moving tribute to Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a Japanese manga artist who is known to have developed and mastered the gekiga (meaning “dramatic pictures”) style of alternative comics.

Tatsumi is still alive by the way as he makes an appearance when the animation transits into reality in a manner loosely reminiscent of Waltz with Bashir (2008), though its execution is far less impactful here than in Folman’s masterpiece.

Khoo’s appetite for a challenge sees him delivering a film that is narrated in Japanese, featuring old-school ‘hand-drawn’ animation, and telling a story that, frankly speaking, mainstream audiences would not care about. There are probably two general groups of people who would be interested in a film like this – Khoo’s loyal fans and Tatsumi’s cult followers.

The film will not light up the box-office, but unless you are an arts and culture cynic, there is no reason you should not see Tatsumi. It is perhaps Khoo’s most artistic and personal film to date. It is also a more interesting film than his last outing, the overrated My Magic (2008).

Tatsumi’s narrative structure is split into two long-running threads – one depicting Tatsumi’s life as an artist, and the other showing some of the artist’s key works in moving images as characters in his comics come to life. In general, the two threads complement each other well, though sometimes the transition between the brighter and inspiring ‘Tatsumi’ thread to the darker and melancholic ‘comic book’ thread, or vice versa, seems overly stark.

However, this strategic alternating of the two threads helps to engage the audience, especially when any part of the thread meanders and becomes uninteresting. Do also look out for the film’s quite beautiful soundtrack; it flows like a river and rarely stops.

For an animated feature, there are quite a number of sexual scenes including a controversial one showing a daughter-turned-prostitute having sex with her old father who comes to visit her. Similar to films that depict a dark neo-reality such as Akira (1988), Tatsumi does not hold back in its portrayal of the decay of society caused by a myriad of factors including urbanization, at least in the context of the world of Tatsumi’s mangas.

In a nutshell, Tatsumi is likely to satisfy audiences who already have a vested interest in the film. Those who are uncertain are encouraged to explore Khoo’s work.

Grade: B+


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