Inori to Shomei: Takehito Moriizumi

Prayer_MoriizumiI know some of you are rolling your eyeballs all the way to the back of your head, so far you are taking a good look at your brain. Ugh, I hear you say to yourself. Another Moriizumi book. We get it already. Your brain likes Moriizumi. And to that, I would say, yes. Yes, my brain does like Moriizumi. But I would also object to the idea that my brain and I spend too much time with his work. Because he keeps making gorgeous and fascinating manga that pushes up against the boundaries of commercial manga in a lot of ways, and that is always worth looking at and discussing. And it is important to discuss artists you like so that they keep getting opportunities to do the work that you like. Seriously, take a minute now to tweet at or email or smoke signal an artist you’re head over heels with and tell them how great their work is. They might be having a bad day and could use the boost. Or they might be having a great day and just really appreciate knowing that their work is reaching its audience and having an impact on them.

But the biggest reason why I feel compelled to continue discussing Moriizumi until I am blue in the metaphorical face is the same reason I am constantly talking about Fumiko Fumi and Yumiko Shirai and all those other artists I love: because he is still not published in English, and that is a figurative crime. I want to share his lovely books with all my monolingual friends, and all I can do is bore them to death with how I wax poetic about these beautiful pages. So allow me to bore you here, dear monolingual friends, with yet another peek at an enticing work you can’t read. But you bilingual friends! Lucky you! Another treat for your comics-loving eyeballs!

Inori (or Prayer and a Signature, according to the English splashed across the cover) is actually an older collection of Moriizumi’s work; his first, in fact. Me reading it now is, of course, the result of falling in love with his work and digging into his back catalogue to make sure I’ve read everything he ever wrote, including his mixi page (if he has one. I haven’t found it, but I’ll keep you posted if I ever come across it). The blurb on the back notes that this is a collection of “gentle, dangerous, and new fairytales”, and maybe that sums it up almost perfectly? Although I’ve been debating the fairytale-ness of the stories in this book with myself. There’s less of the fantastical that usually turns up in fairytales, and none of the happy endings or grim life lessons. Unless being held prisoner in a Russian castle is a grim life lesson somehow.Mansion_Moriizumi

A big yes to gentle and dangerous, though. Moriizumi brings a strange tenderness to every page, even as he tells the bizarre and certainly perilous tale of Irina in the three “Irina series” stories that make up the first third of the book. Irina is a runaway who has fallen in with wealthy heiress Svetlana, who has a big old estate in the country, complete with giant mansion and hired help. They have sex with each other and the help when they feel like it, living large until Svetlana disappears, and Irina discovers what her position in this world really is. She writes fake letters to her religious parents, telling them how she is staying in convents, strengthening her connection to God, and then strolls around the mansion naked, getting sexed up by her hot girlfriend. It’s weirdly compelling and continues to drift further and further into weird town until it reaches the only conclusion that seems possible, even though it’s not entirely satisfying. Which is my favourite kind of ending, one of those that keeps the characters with you for days as you wonder just what happened to them.

Art_MoriizumiThe next story, “Haru wa Kinikeri”, is a surprising turn in the opposite direction. Whereas “Irina” is dark and sexy and grimly hopeful, “Haru” invites us to view the world through a seemingly insatiably curious child, Haru. She discovers continents and history and the world through books, but also her parents as her father shows off an unknown ability to speak English, stunning her into a new awareness that her parents are people too. When she meets their artist friend, she innocently asks, “What is art?”, and he graciously tells her, “Art is light.” But of course, she is a curious girl, and immediately responds with, “So then shadow is not art?” And we get this interesting explanation from the artist, while looking weird tortured, like the burden of art is so great, he can hardly bear it, but he must for the sake of this child, the future of art.

Shipwreck_Moriizumi.jpg“Haru” is followed by a couple of shorter stories, “Troy” a monster story done completely in silhouettes, and “Yoru ha Chikashiku”, which was part of the “Life with You 3.11” series of work published in Comics Beam focussed on the Tohoku Disaster. Both are more “Haru” than “Irina”, in that neither is particularly unsafe for work, but “Troy” definitely shares the grim hope of “Irina,” while “Yoru” is the more unfettered optimism of “Haru.” All of the works in this collection are done in that incomprehensible art style that looks maybe like impossible wood cuts, but is actually water and ink and toothpicks.

Moriizumi explains in the afterword that when he tells people he draws with water, they tend to look at him like he has six heads. Which is totally fair. Even after reading his own description of how he works, I still can’t see how one would get from there to the images on the pages here. At any rate, it’s gorgeous and explosive and expressive and so completely unlike anything I’ve seen in manga or comics in general. We need more people trying new things in comics, pushing the boundaries and exploring just what kinds of expression are possible in this medium. So we need to support work that does just that when we find it. And yes, count that as another reason I am out here, shouting at the literal moon about how great Moriizumi is. God_Moriizumi

4 thoughts on “Inori to Shomei: Takehito Moriizumi

    1. I know! I always want to try to highlight works that really remind us of the many different aesthetic and narrative possibilities of manga. Especially as English readers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of the monolithic manga look/story.

      I’m glad my pitch is selling him! He’s really great, and you should totally read at least one of his books, if only to drown in the lovely ink style. The scans of the pages here don’t do his art justice.

  1. Ooooh, I just got this book because it got discounted on Amazon JP recently. It’s like fate seeing a post about it here.

    I only read the first story so far. I find the art a bit awkward although the story is intriguing. I hope the rest deliver more.

    Regarding water and ink art, I don’t think it’s a new thing. Chinese artists have been doing that for centuries and we know Japan copied China a whole ton (although to be fair to them, they infuse their own identity and create their own culture from that). I think we just don’t often see this sort of technique being used in manga, is all.

    1. I hope you like the rest of the book! It must be fate to buy it and then see me write about it like that!

      And it’s not that water and ink art is so unique, it’s that you don’t see this kind of thing in manga usually, and I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen work done in this way, with the water put down on the page and then the ink dropped into it. He then uses toothpicks to move the ink through the water to create his manga. The technique creates these really unique images that almost read as woodcut prints or something. It’s so fascinating to me.

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