The product of a disillusioned time and place, Abandon the Old in Tokyo presents a stark, evocative and fearless portrayal of loners, lost souls and villains inhabiting the sordid underbelly of 1960s Tokyo. The book brings together a collection of translated stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who in recent years has rapidly gained recognition in the west for his dark and uncompromising take on the urban experience, recently described by the New York Times as “One of Japan’s most important visual artists.”
Tatsumi examines similar themes to The Pushman and Other Stories, although here he ventures to even darker places. A burnt out children’s cartoonist finds himself out of work and plagued by ill health only to be rejuvenated by a new passion that simultaneously horrifies and revitalizes him. A son caught between the restrictions of his overbearing mother and the less inhibited life offered by his doting fiancée is compelled to make a fateful decision. A desperate and bankrupt old businessman overcome by misery finds solace in an unusual and disturbing place. These are a few of the tales in a book that uses small scale storytelling to comment on individual discontent in a rapidly modernizing city.
Unlike similar collections where stories are often too loosely related, resulting in works that feel disjointed and ultimately unrewarding, these short stories are closely linked by a mood of unrelenting bleakness that seeps from every page. The short stories act as eight vignettes of struggling everyday Japanese men, combining to produce a collective portrait of urban alienation and repression.
The stories themselves are well crafted, surprising, emotionally engaging and often, apparently, lifted from real life. With an approach that is at times literary, and employs poignant metaphors of loneliness, modernity and despair, Tatsumi successfully achieves a depth of emotion that lingers after putting the book down.
The main characters of each story are almost interchangeable, frequently looking similar or identical. The extremely sparse dialogue is another striking feature of the book, which serves to emphasize the lead characters’ sense of alienation from the world around them.
The artwork is simple and expressive with bold lines and crude faces, producing a clarity of storytelling and broad range of emotions that serve the story well.
Abandon the Old in Tokyo is certainly not for the easily offended nor the conservative reader, as the stories are strange and often unpleasant. But those open to such material will find a memorable, intelligent and evocative account of the darker side of urban life that is as revealing as it is uncomfortable.