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CHICHI NO KOYOMI

Jiro Taniguchi (artist and writer)


Published by Planet Manga € 12.34

"My father died leaving the hatred I had as a young kid inside me". Youichi is a man like any other who works in Tokyo, makes good money, has a wife and a family. He was born and raised in a rural town called Tottori, and everything he has gained in life has been a struggle. He left his small town fourteen years earlier, leaving everything behind: his relatives, his friends, his sister, his mother and especially his father Take, who works as a barber. When Youichi finds out about his father’s death, he realises that the time has come for him to go back home and cope with the memories of his past.
His journey back home is not just an emotional one, but it is also a real "physical" journey. Youichi leaves Tokyo for his hometown, with the aim of being present at his dad’s funeral. However, although he doesn’t make it on time for the service, he is able to be present at his wake. During the wake, he sees all his family and friends that he had left behind. In a type of modern psychodrama, Youichi reconstructs his father’s life through a mix of personal memories, stories told by his relatives as well as in confidence by his stepmother. For the first time ever, he realises that an insurmountable barrier of pride and misunderstanding had risen between himself and his father. Youichi remembers all the most important events of his life, such as his father’s newly opened barbershop, which looks beautiful and shiny as it is remembered with bright colours. As a kid, he used to play quietly on that sunny floor, while his father was working. It’s no coincidence that this flashback is the first one of the story and that it is the only episode in colour (the rest of the story is in black and white). His father at that time seemed a quiet and re-assuring person, and his family was like a warm nest. That apparent peace is destined to be broken.
During his flashbacks, Youichi sees Tottori completely destroyed by a fire with all its houses burnt down and dead people everywhere. The event was a devastating one which destroyed entire families and which also hit Youichi’s family. While the entire town undergoes re-construction, Take tries to re-open his business. This is not exactly easy if not impossible without a lot of bargaining. Take gradually becomes strange, reserved, proud and Youichi, who doesn’t understand the reasons for his behaviour, begins to despise him.
Summarising shortly Youichi’s story is a difficult task because it includes a whole range of events and strong emotions, which can only be fully comprehended looking at the story as a whole. Take, who initially seems incredibly peaceful, gradually reveals some unusual aspects of his character, which even his son doesn’t know of. Youichi’s relatives, his sister and stepmother give a different picture of Take’s character as they narrate episodes of his life. Just like when, for some bizarre reason, mirrors can show distorted images of people, Youichi learns something totally new about his father when his sister shows him an old photo of him. The photo was taken by Youichi himself, (photography used to be his favourite hobby) and shows his dad working at the barbershop. The photo shows an image of his father reflected in two mirrors.
Chichi No Koyomi has been written and drawn by Jiro Taniguchi, an artist with great sensitivity and composure. Although Tottori is Taniguchi’s hometown, the story is not at all autobiographical with the exception of the part, which describes the fire. His art is very precise although not in an exaggerated way as he manages to give life to his characters, beauty to the landscape and a sense of bitterness throughout the story.
I’d like to close by quoting Taniguchi. Quoting the magazine "Big Comic" ’s editor Toshiaki Sato, Taniguchi said that "the moral of Youichi’s story cannot be expressed in full unless the reader overcomes the limit of comics as entertainment art". He also added that "artists should not worry too much about how popular comics can be, but rather focus on how effectively they can communicate to readers", a goal well accomplished in this story.

L.P.