Last year, while living my Tokyo comics life, I ended up sitting across from Moriizumi at an izakaya. Tokyo might be one of the biggest cities on the planet, but you run into people there in the weirdest ways. I was at a manga event with fellow manga friends and in the course of moving through the evening, we ended up at an izakaya, as one often does at some point in a Tokyo night. Coincidentally, one of my manga friends had mentioned Moriizumi’s latest book earlier in the evening, and no doubt this title would have gone in one ear and out the other had we not met the man later. I felt bad that I hadn’t read any of his work or even heard of him until a couple hours before. I am a manga professional; I’m supposed to be up on these things. But, you guys, there are a lot of people making manga in this country. I can’t keep track of them all.
So everyone ate chicken and other izakaya food that I can’t eat (oh, lonely vegetarian), and talked and drank. Moriizumi seemed like an interesting, thoughtful kind of guy, so I made a mental note to check out his comics at some point. (Artists, take note! If you are a nice person to hang out with, you can make people curious about your work!) And then of course, I forgot all about that note and read a gazillion other books. You know that last part already if you have been following the battles of my brain over this last year.
But then I came to cat island, free from the book baggage of Toronto and the shelf of unread books. I had to start over here. It was freeing in a way. With no pile of books staring me down, I could just order whatever caught my eye in the moment and read it right then and there (as I did with Noda’s Ikazuchi Tooku Umi ga Naru). Or I could look at the list of books I had made a note of for one reason or another and order some of those. And as I scrolled down that list past Islands of Privacy and Death Poems and other books that I was not in the mood to read for one reason or another, I stumbled upon Mimi wa Wasurenai and remembered my promise to myself to check Moriizumi’s work out. And into the virtual basket it went.
And I’ll say right now, it should go in your virtual basket too. It’s okay if you don’t read Japanese; you can just stare at the beauty on every page. Moriizumi makes manga like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The tagline on the cover even notes “new possibilities for manga”. His pages look like woodcuts? He says in the afterword, that he was using water and ink before finally making real use of the toothpick, which had only been an occasional tool up to that point, so I guess they’re not woodcuts, which leaves me officially baffled at how he creates these images. (Seriously, some of these pages at least are woodcut prints, right???) They’re graceful and delicate with a bizarre strength. The way his blacks always fade out somewhere, the white that creeps into his lines. Needless to say, Moriizumi does not use screentone. This is all ink, somehow.
In the early stories in this book, his lines are heavier, the pages darker with ink, and you get the sense that he is still figuring out exactly what he wants to do with this manga thing. These early stories, including his debut “Mori no Mary”, have a dreamier quality to them. They’re not quite stories in the narrative sense, they’re more like moments caught in ink. The thicker undefined inks in “Mori” make the story harder to follow; faces and character differentiation are not quite a thing here. But once we get to “Tozoku wa Sabaku wo Hashiru” from a few months later, we get clear characters with individual faces and real expressions, plus a more narrative kind of story. These early stories are printed on brown paper, making them feel older, not just in Moriizumi’s history, but also in terms of storytelling. The brown lends a fairytale mythicness, like the pages were dug up after years of being hidden away, which totally works for each of the looser stories on these pages.
My favourite in this collection by far is “Sayoko Kakeru Kakeru”, which comes squarely in the middle career-wise. Sayoko’s mother makes up the beginning of a fairy tale as a bedtime story, and Sayoko falls asleep before it really goes anywhere. But her imagination is captivated by the adventuring princess and her dragon off in search of the princess’s younger sister, and so she begins to draw the epic tale. Images of Sayoko’s everyday life are interspersed with her drawings of the princess’s story. We get to see the girl growing up through the story she draws, discovering herself through the princess. Her drawings are beautiful, mature and fully formed, showing us perhaps what Sayoko sees when she looks at them.
Another touching look at girlhood and growing up comes in “Shiki mo Hibi mo”, which focuses on the adult Kanako, switching between first and third person narration. On the first page, she is proposed to for the second time in her life. There’s a natural look backwards and forwards that happens at this turning point that I love. The moment when she realizes she could actually spend the rest of her life with the man who eventually proposes to her is especially great. It’s so natural; the surprise she feels at the realization is so clearly and perfectly communicated. But the bit that broke my heart and made me linger over this one was when her mother is walking her to the station after she has gone home to tell her parents about the engagement. Her mother falls behind her, short of breath on a hill, and she realizes that their positions used to be reversed. She remembers being a little girl and how her mother always waited for her on that hill. There’s something so poignant about this moment, that realization that our parents are mortal.
The whole book is gorgeous and beautifully put together, including the title story on glossy pages colored with canary yellow, and complete with single-line drawings on the title page for each story. It’s the kind of book I’d love to see in a slender hardback if that was a thing the Japanese manga publishing industry really did. (But arty North American publishers, take note! This would make a beautiful book!) As it is, I will have to be content with caressing these paperback pages.