Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tezuka Osamu: Message To Adolf

The last of my summer Tezuka reading, I think.  Another one I read in English, because we had it around in English, because Mrs. Sgt. T taught it.

I'm trying to think deep thoughts about this stuff, trying to give it the intellectual attention it deserves, when really I know, deep down inside, that Tezuka isn't holding my interest.  Message to Adolf was better than most, though.  It's really his best argument to be taken seriously.  If you only read one Tezuka, make it Atom;  if you read two, this should be the second.


Mrs. Sgt. T likes to compare Tezuka to Steven Spielberg.  The first time she said this I felt a light go on.  It's a great comparison. 

Both are artists who started out in fields that got no critical respect:  they were purely popular art forms.  Already there are problems with the comparison, because Tezuka's field as a whole (manga) got no respect when he started, while Spielberg's field as a whole (movies) already got a lot of respect;  but he was working in the most popular end of that field, so I think the comparison holds up if you don't get too nitpicky about it.

And both proved to be extraordinarily gifted in those fields:  innovative craftsmen, inspired storytellers, raising what they were doing as close to the level of art as it could get, within the constraints of a totally popular art form.  Tezuka's influence on every genre of manga (and anime) is legendary, while Spielberg is usually said to have essentially invented the summer blockbuster action movie.

And then they wanted to be taken more seriously, so they started changing their art, making art for grown-ups. Tezuka started drawing things like Ayako, Buddha, and Adolf;  Spielberg made The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Munich.  And that's where the trouble began, because it's never been clear that either has all that much to say.  They can bring tremendous craft (art in the sense of skilled work) to bear on their subjects, and through that they can make work of great emotional power, but the ideas behind that work are often simple and/or a bit confused.  And so in spite of all their aspirations to be taken truly seriously, they'll always be remembered best for their lighthearted early work.  (And, the missus notes, it's a coincidence but also maybe inevitable that in their bids for seriosity they both turned to WWII/Holocaust themes - loading the dice, really.)

They're both tremendous entertainers, maybe the best ever at that.  And many of us have no problem calling that art.  But they had this itch to please more demanding critics than I usually am, and they weren't as successful at that.  Although, to be fair, I seem to be in a very small minority in thinking that about Tezuka.

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