Is it possible to look at a horrible life experience in a completely positive way? Hideo Azumi takes a shot at it, but the result is a varried and oftentimes disturbing autobiography that is mesmerizing. Read my review after the jump!
When I originally started looking into works published by Fanfare earlier last year, I was surprised by both the small size of their catalog, and the immense depth of range that it represented. Disappearance Diary, winner of the 9th Japan Media Arts Festival Grand Prize in 2005, is a piece of work that not only exemplifies the Fanfare catalogue, but also shows how unique it truly is.
Disappearance Diary is an autobiography written by Hideo Azumi, a manga writer who, like most authors, has to live paycheck to paycheck. In two separate fits, he runs away from his home and becomes a vagabond, living off of trash and cigarette butts thrown on the sidewalk. He hides in public parks, sleeps in fields, steals vegetables from farms, and occasionally he is returned to civilization by those not privy to his mental breakdowns. In the final third of the book, Azumi relates his descent into alcoholism and forced rehabilitation.
One of the key features of Disappearance Diary is that, unlike so many other harrowing autobiographies, Azumi is willing to look at his life and laugh. If Azumi ever looked into the Abyss, the Abyss looking back would only see a giggling man, full of self-contempt and wry amusement. This tone gives Azumi’s autobiography a cheerful demeanor, despite its difficult content. It allows Azumi to write humor into humorless passages, and allows him to breathe life into a stagnating, perhaps decaying sense of self.
The art, like the tone of the book, is appropriately cheery. The characters are squat and cartoonish, removing the realism from the story, much like Charlz Schultz’s characters in Peanuts. Azumi lives in a world populated by creeps and judgmental passerby, but all of these people are encapsulated in caricatures that give Azumi the distance he needs to tell the story of his life. This distance is a key part of the narrative tone; without it, the book almost surely could have not been written, nor could it have been so harrowing.
While reading this book, it is difficult to realize how hard Azumi’s life was during the time that is illustrated for us, which is the real reason why Disappearance Diary is such an interesting piece of fiction. On one hand, I am cheering for him as he finds food and cigarettes out on the street, but at the same time, I am being deluded. The cheery statements that Azumi’s character make obfuscate the true meaning of the passages, and the cartoony artwork further distances the hellish world of homelessness and alcoholism for the eyes of the reader. Only by truly examining the message delivered by the story do we sense the despair lurking in Azumi, knowing that the possibility of future flight and a relapse into addictive behavior could be right around the corner.
“This manga has a positive outlook on life, and so it has been made with as much realism removed as possible.” With this opening, Hideo Azumi foreshadows the telling of a tale that weaves in and out of the most horrible years of his adult life. As a struggling manga artist, Azumi relates to us in Disappearance Diary the story of his adult life, and does so with a distance and emotional levity that at times borders on the inappropriate. I feel that this is of utmost importance. With his inappropriate look at a life troubled by alcoholism and homelessness, Hideo Azumi lays bare his troubles and allows us to dissect them, showing us a dark world tinged by rose-colored glasses.