In this third collection of short stories from famed gekika author Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the stories are longer, and the content more about the situations surrounding the sad characters rather than the depths of despair they can reach. A lot of the topics range back to post-WWII Japan and the effects on society, but some stray towards less specific targets, such as an older man who lusts after a younger coworker, and another about a young man living in a slum-like apartment complex that winds up vacant at the end of the story. All are emotionally powerful, and all offer commentary on the darker side of human nature and urban living. This collection was edited by Adrian Tomine, and features an introduction by Frederik Schodt that sheds light on some of the symbolism that might not be immediately recognizable to an international audience.
It’s been a long time since I read the two short story collections that come before this, but I still think this would be my favorite of the three. With most of the stories dealing with depressing content, being hit with story after story about unwanted pregnancies and unwanted elderly, they can wear on you pretty quickly, so I think the context provided in these stories appealed to me more. The content was also marginally less depressing, dealing with sexual obsession rather than unhappy marriages, disillusionment rather than unemployment or difficult jobs that don’t pay.
The first story, “Hell,” was my favorite in the collection. In the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, a soldier tries to find something to hold onto in order to keep his sanity. He is touched by the scorched shadow of a son giving his mother a massage, both vaporized immediately when the bomb hit, and he takes a photo. Later, he sells it and becomes internationally famous, with many latching onto the photo as a human symbol of the loss. Later, he meets the real son of the woman who died, who reveals to him that far from the touching scene of domesticity, the boy giving the massage is actually someone he hired to murder his mother, caught forever in the act by the photo. The main character is deeply disturbed by this upset, and the story ends with the media rejecting the image and all the humanitarian efforts he worked so hard for dissolving.
While this is a sad story, and it does touch on the same blue-collar people who the earlier collections focused on (the photographer was a soldier, and only sold the photo later because he badly needed the money, the son tried to extort money out of the man in exchange for his silence about the real intent of the photo), but it tells a story rather than just assaulting you with the crushing depression of a terrible living situation.
There are stories that simply look at a moment in the lives of the characters. Two stories at the end of the volume, “Good-Bye” and “Click Click Click,” are both good examples. “Good-Bye” looks at a woman who is selling herself to the American soldiers who occupied Japan after the war and the father that exploits her, and “Click Click Click” is a strange story about a quiet man who does good deeds to cover his bizarre foot/shoe fetish. Neither states the theme in so many words, and I had to read “Click Click Click” twice to make sure I understood what was going on, but I also like that Tatsumi, while seeming to point an accusatory finger, doesn’t really taint the stories with a viewpoint or a moral. He merely shows, which is similar to the stories in “Red Snow” by Katsumata, save for the fact Katsumata’s stories are full of characters who don’t seem to judge each other. These stories do have conclusions and a bit of a narrative, and are less like snapshots than some of the older stories.
Many of the stories are tales of sexual obsession or frustration. Both above can fall in that category, but so can “Life is So Sad,” about a wife who abstains from sex while her husband is in prison, “Night Falls Again,” about a lonely man who frequents strip clubs and peep shows (this short story is just a snapshot, with no real narrative), and “Just a Man” and “Rash,” which are two very different looks at impotency, though I may be misjudging the symbolism in “Rash.”
A story that is still good, but feels out-of-place, is “Woman in the Mirror,” about a young boy who comes face-to-face with a classmate that struggles with gender identity. The main character makes a harsh judgement against the boy he catches dressing as a girl, and ultimately nothing comes of the confrontation, but it still raises points about alternate lifestyles that I have yet to see in Tatsumi’s work.
With more heavily narrative stories, a variety of unusual topics, and a close look at the lowest levels of the pecking order, Good-Bye is yet another wonderful collection from Tatsumi. The stories seem to have matured and become more, while still retaining the darkness that made his earlier collections so unusual. Tatsumi is well worth checking out if you have yet to read his work, and I would encourage you to start with this collection.