Sunday, July 27, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Shigeru Mizuki

Title: NonNonBa
Writer and Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
via Drawn and Quarterly
Manga artist Shigeru Mizuki is best known for his horror stories, particularly those involving yokai, haunting spirits from Japanese folklore.  He originally learned about yokai from Nonnonba, an older woman he knew while growing up in his home village Sakaiminato on the Japan Sea coast.  The book NonNonBa is a sort of fictionalized memoir of his own childhood.

I think it's fair to say that Mizuki had an unusual upbringing.  His father, the first man in his village to go to university in Tokyo, was a lot more interested in his more romantic pursuits like running a movie theatre than he was in fulfilling the basic expectations of a respectable job.  As such, the family was pretty much always on the brink of ruin.  On the bright side, his father eagerly encouraged his son's creative passions from a young age.

Nonnonba was not the only woman in his life.  In fact, while young Shigeru had memorable adventures with the boys in the neighborhood, the memories of most lasting impact all revolved around girls.  There was little Matsu who died of measles, TB-stricken Chigusa and, perhaps most heartbreaking of all, Miwa who was sold away to a geisha house.

The artwork is beautiful, of course, with caricature images of the people set against more realistic backgrounds, a typical manga device.  It helps to juxtapose the playfulness of childhood with the gravity of life.  I enjoyed the book a lot more than Mizuki's more famous GeGeGe no Kitaro stories.  There's more of his work in my TBR stacks so I'll be discussing him again before too long.


  1. His more recent history of Japan during WWII looks fantastic.

    1. Absolutely. We've got the first two volumes of Showa, though I haven't read them yet.