Red Flowers by Yoshiharu Tsuge, translated by Ryan Holmberg / ISBN 9781770464346 / 284-page hard cover from Drawn & Quarterly
The influential cartoonist hits his stride as he celebrates the charms and oddities of rural postwar culture
Yoshiharu Tsuge leaves early genre trappings behind, taking a light, humorous approach in these stories based on his own travels. Red Flowers ranges from deep character studies to personal reflections to ensemble comedies set in the hotels and bathhouses of rural Japan. There are irascible old men, drunken gangsters, reflective psychiatric-hospital escapees, and mysterious dogs. Tsuge’s stories are mischievous and tender even as they explore complex relationships and heartache. It’s a world of extreme poverty, tradition, secret fishing holes, and top-dollar koi farming.
The title story highlights the nuance and empathy that made Tsuge’s work stand out from that of his peers. A nameless traveler comes across a young girl running an inn. While showing the traveler where the best fishing hole is, a bratty schoolmate reveals the girl must run the business because her alcoholic father is incapable. At the story’s end, the traveler witnesses an unusual act of kindness from the boy as the girl suffers her first menstrual cramps ― and a simple travelogue takes on unexpected depth.
Red Flowers affirms why Tsuge went on to become one of the most important cartoonists in Japan. These vital comics inspired a wealth of fictionalized memoir from his peers and a desire within the postwar generation to document and understand the diversity of their country’s culture.
Yoshiharu Tsuge was born in Tokyo in 1937. Influenced by the realistic and gritty rental manga of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, he began making his own comics. He was also recruited to assist Shigeru Mizuki during his explosion of popularity in the 1960s. In 1968, working for Garo magazine, Tsuge published the ground-breaking story “Neji-shiki”, which established him as an influential manga-ka and a cultural touchstone in the changing Japanese art world. He is considered the originator and greatest practitioner of the “I-novel” method of comics-making. In 2005, Tsuge was nominated for the Best Album Award at the Angouleme Comics Festival and in 2017 he won the Japan Cartoonists Association Grand Award.