Back on the other side of the ocean and at the start of a new year, you know the only thing I am doing is going to bookstores, buying books, and then reading the books I buy. (And eating vegan ramen. It is my only love outside of books.) So within perhaps hours of my plane touching down at Haneda, I was fondly running my eyes over shelves of books that I have not yet read. Most of the things I’ve picked up so far have been the latest volume in ongoing series that I’m reading, like the new Deathco or Lady & Old Man, but I’ve grabbed a couple stand-alone books, like this weird BL about dentists, which is a first for me. (But I have translated BL about accountants, so I guess no dull profession is off limits in BL?) But the book that pushed a gasp of delight out of my mouth when I spotted it among the new releases was Uto Sousou by Takehito Moriizumi.
I have raved about Moriizumi a couple times before, but I am compelled to do it again. And again and again until someone listens to me and publishes his work in English already. (And hires me to do it; that is always the extra condition there.) He is doing work that is so utterly original and bafflingly beautiful, not just compared with other comics in the Japanese market, but any comics that I’ve read anywhere. I’ve been stumped by how he creates the images that filled the pages of his previous work, strange semi-watercolors that look like wood cuts. It turns out a lot of that work was done with water to which ink was added on the page, a process I cannot even begin to understand, but Uto is surprisingly easy to figure out. He drew the whole book in pencil. It’s amply clear from the pages themselves that these are pencils line drawings (or perhaps pastel), but just in case you don’t get it, the afterword by film director Nobuhiko Obayashi (who, in an unexpected twist, is Moriizumi’s father-in-law) spells it out for the reader: the book is done in 8B pencil. Moriizumi made a small dot on the blank page and then moved out with his line. Until he had fifteen short stories to put into a book.
These stories, unlike his previous work, ran in a literary fiction magazine, and the style and subject matter clearly reflect this. Moriizumi is not making manga here, he’s writing short stories with pictures. He creates these little moments, pockets of time and space cut off from the rest of the universe and yet deeply connected with it and the other little pockets in the book. And he’s leaving the reader to fill in the blanks, read between the lines, dig deeper. In each story, Moriizumi pokes his head into a different world, a different character, so we watch a man wonder at the fact that he is forty-five on a rare holiday in New York, a junior high girl talking on the phone with her childhood friend, a French man who has been living in Japan longer than the people he is talking to have been alive, a woman reaching out to her old roommates abroad; all these tiny turning points, chances for reflection, places where we are reading between the lines in our own lives.
And Moriizumi gives us nothing but lines. It’s almost like reading the shadow of a manga; nothing but the outlines of the scenes that should be jumping to life on the pages. But those lines are enough. Expressive and evocative and full of a poetic motion, the pencil bringing these little narrative moments to life gives the reader room to breathe and pull together the images in her own head. Obayashi notes in the afterword that Moriizumi is a writer in images, and that might be the best assessment of the work in these pages. You know how when you read a novel or a short story and the images sort of spring to life in your mind, sometimes hazy, sometimes sharply defined, but always there? Your brain pulls something out of the words on the page and creates this visual picture in your mind, a marvel and a mystery that I often wonder about. But I’ve never really had that experience with manga or comics. I’ve felt the movement implied or the world beyond the images on the page, but I don’t get the same hazy overlapping world in my mind that I do with text-based fiction. But reading Uto, my brain was in overdrive, seeing lush forests in the squiggly lines of the outlines of trees, finding emotions on expressionless faces. The whole time I was reading Uto, my mind kept going back to Saho Tono and the way she creates this manga poetry. The magic of the moments she pulls you into and the places her sometimes random-seeming images will take you. Moriizumi’s not quite making poetry in these pages, but he is doing something I’ve never seen in manga before. Maybe you could call it manga literature? Whatever you call it, I want to read more of it.