In the first edition of our new ongoing Creator Spotlight series, I wanted to share the work of an amazing manga writer and artist who many Americans are unaware of: Jiro Taniguchi. More than just a manga writer/artist, Mr. Taniguchi has created some of the most beautiful and beloved books in Japan and Europe.
Coming from humble beginnings as an assistant to manga artist Kyota Ishikawa in 1970, to becoming an award-winning writer/artist whose career had spanned nearly 50 years, Jiro Taniguchi was a true legend in the manga and art world. Sadly, Mr. Taniguchi passed away in February of 2017. Fortunately, he left behind a timeless body of work that’ll forever remain in our hearts and inspire generations of young artists to come.
From 1976-1986 Taniguchi worked on several hard-boiled comics with the scenarist Natsuo Sekigawa. With some of the most popular being City Without Defense, The Wind of the West is White, and Lindo 3. But it was with the duo’s Osamu Tezuka Culture Award winning 5-volume series Botchan no Jidai that Taniguchi really became a household name in the manga scene.
Botchan no Jidai, or Times of Botchan as it’s known to US audiences, is a series based on the 1906 novel Botchan by one of Japan’s most famous writers, Natsume Soseki.
This is the fictionalized version of the life and times of Japanese author Natsume Soseki during an era of great change in Japan from the traditional Edo period into the modern Meiji period (1867-1912). Soseki is considered the Charles Dickens or Mark Twain of Japan. His image even appeared on the 1000 yen note for two decades. He is best known for his novel Botchan, on whose times this book is based and the short I Am A Cat which is integrated into these pages. In this first volume we meet a circle of Soseki’s friends and he receives the spark that will become Botchan. Taniguchi marries talent to a solid script by Sekikawa to create a fresco of Japanese society towards the end of the Meiji period as Japan was beginning to open up to the West. What could have been simply an illustrated textbook becomes, in these capable hands, a narrative for adults of great artistic and historical significance.
Synopsis via Amazon Books
Taniguchi would continue to have great success throughout the 80s and 90s garnering him incredible popularity in Europe, especially in France. It was his work in France that received the most accolades—with France going as far as to Knight Mr. Taniguchi as a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2011.
His work has proved timeless with books such as A Distant Neighborhood and The Walking Man proving his art could tell a story just as well as his words. The Walking Man, first published in 1992, was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2017. A full 15 years after it was first released.
The Walking Man perfectly demonstrates Taniguchi’s ability to find the beauty in the mundane. The protagonist of the story finds himself entranced by the beauty of the world around him—a common theme throughout Taniguchi’s work—forgoing the need for drama or action to move the story forward. The story simply exist as singular beautiful moment in time. And that’s all it needs to be.
And while The Walking Man introduces readers to a zen state of mind, A Distance Neighborhood (1998-1999) takes things in a different direction by transporting our adult minds to the nostalgic times of our childhoods.
The protagonist of this story is your average businessman. One day he gets on a train but somehow ends up going back in time. He finds himself as a 14-year-old kid in school again—only he has retained his adult mind.
Now being the smartest kid in class and knowing things others don’t, he should be able to change the future any way he sees fit. But he quickly finds that’s not the answer to fixing the problems in his adult life. This story is a wonderful example of keeping a time travel story grounded by showing how our actions have real consequences.
But if you really want to see the scope of Taniguchi’s art, you must read Summit of the Gods. This is another of his award-winning series and one of many to be turned into a live-action film and animated movie. The story is about a photographer, Fukamachi, who finds a camera supposedly belonging to George Mallory, a mountaineer who went missing on Mount Everest. Fukamachi goes on a mountain-climbing adventure along with his friend Habu Joji.
The series displays the full range of Taniguchi’s artistic abilities with sprawling mountain scenes and beautiful illustrations. It would go on to win the prize for excellence by the Agency for Cultural Affairs at the Japan Media Arts Festival, as well as the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel and Outstanding Series in 2010, and even had its fourth volume of the series nominated for a 2014 Eisner Award in the category “Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia”.
Moving on to Taniguchi’s most recent work, and the reason why I wanted to write this, is Furari. This is the story of an unnamed surveyor, (inspired by historical figure, Tadataka Ino 1745 – 1818) who travels around Edo exploring the countless pleasures of daily life in old Japan. When I first found out about this book I was unable to get any information on it. Regardless, it was from Jiro Taniguchi, so I wanted it.
I’m not sure when this was first published, but the copyright is from 2012. I could only find it in French, but I eventually read that it would be made into an English version in 2014. And so, I waited. A year went by, until the fateful day I saw it listed on Amazon. I pre-ordered the English version of the book immediately. If I wasn’t the first person to pre-order it, I was pretty damn close. That was in March of 2015. I finally received the book at the end of August of this year (2017). To say the least, I learned a great lesson in patience.
Ironically, this book is all about taking life slow—enjoying the simple pleasures. Much like The Walking Man, this covers the beauty in everyday life. Only, it takes you back to a much simpler time. If you enjoy philosophical, conscious art, this is the book for you.
I absolutely loved this book. And it came at just the right time. I was dealing with a lot of stress and not enjoying life the way I should have been. But reading this book completely reversed the view I had of my daily life. It teaches you to take time for the little moments of beauty in our daily lives. Those moments we often overlook.
From reading Taniguchi’s work, you realize these moments are what make life. They are the glue that holds our souls together. Without stopping to observe the wonder that is the world around us, we lose the thing that makes us who we are—we lose the part that connects us with the natural world around us.
It’s hard to imagine, but we are a part of nature. Even with mega cities, countless faceless corporations, and an overabundance of people, we are still animals in the natural world. We are not above our place in the universe anymore than a fat goldfish in a small bowl. So, if you take one thing from the amazing legacy of Jiro Taniguchi, it’s that you should never take any moment of life for granted. Even if that moment is so small you almost don’t notice it. Because those moments are why life is worth living. And I thank Mr. Taniguchi for teaching me that lesson through his magnificent work.
Rest in peace good sir. You’ll truly be missed.