Drawn like flies to Tezuka's awesome presence in room 14, many aspiring young artists in the mid-1950s moved into that two-story building to etch out a new manga history. For many comic readers, Tokiwaso is a symbol of a fondly remembered youth full of dreams and hope.
Director Ichikawa Jun's movie version of this legend in Tokiwa: The Manga Apartment is pleasantly steeped in this nostalgia. Yet Ichikawa, more than recalling the heroic deeds of the leading players of this manga revolution, instead offers his own, often fictionalized interpretation of a comic book youth in 1950s Japan.
His hero is neither Tezuka, who leaves early in the film, nor any of the more illustrious residents, but the lesser known Terada Hiroo (serenely played by Motoki Masahiro), author of Number "0" ("Sebango '0'") and other baseball manga. Like an older brother to his neighbors, Terada represents an earlier, more naive worldview embodied in his simple but pure baseball comics, one which is confronted by very different era.
The film's style represents these changes. The first half of the movie is like a document of Showa history, interspersing an episodic narration with 1950s popular songs and documentary images. Ichikawa also combined fiction with documentary in his celebrated Dying at a Hospital ("Byoin de shinu to iu koto," 1993), but he does it in a different way this time. The gentle narrative is subdued, almost non-existent; big events are excised to leave only the plain life of poor artists pursuing a dream.
While Ishikawa's long shot, long take camera and his abridged editing style are visible in his other work, in this film they almost becomes a cinematic approximation of the narrative structure of Terada's old-style comics. Yet as the younger artists start to gain fame and success, the film begins to change. The pace turns brisk and the narrative more linear, as if embodying the more cinematic structure of 1950s story manga that Tezuka pioneered and his disciples developed.
Tokiwa celebrates the new generation's success but registers regret at Terada's world that has been left behind. While the others draw exciting action that will sell, Terada steadfastly ignores pragmatic reality to pursue his own, utterly innocent truth and vision.
In emphasizing Terada's dedication to his world, Ichikawa links him with another individualistic artist, Tsuge Yoshiharu. Tsuge may have been Terada's opposite, revolutionizing manga by inserting the grime of an imperfect and personally disturbed reality into his work, but here he shares him a relationship with Tokiwa-so and its manga utopia.
Ichikawa's architectural cinematography constructs Tokiwaso as a dream world, an idyllic realm which is incompletely connected to reality through the windows and stairs the film often focuses on. Bland and lusterless, Tokiwaso still produces comic books full of color and hope.
Tsuge, however, cannot live in that building and soon refuses to even visit. He and his work are too grounded in reality to enter into that dream-like space. Terada, too, must leave in the end. But while his younger colleagues can sketch out this paradise on the second floor, only to set it aside whenever they leave the building, Terada is different. In an exquisite last shot that condenses all the purity of his childlike vision, Terada returns a white baseball to an innocent baseball youth bearing on his back the number "0". Only Terada can leave Tokiwaso and bring his manga dream world with him.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerowonogerow@gorilla.or.jp
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 28 March 1996, p. 9.
Copyright 1996: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow