Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Distant Neighbourhood by Jiro Taniguchi

This is a manga (Japanese comic book) in which a tired 48-year-old businessman from Tokyo finds himself travelling back to the rural town that he grew up in. He falls asleep by his mother's gravestone and wakes up to find himself back in his fourteen-year-old body, except he has retained all the knowledge and experience of adulthood. He has returned to his old life at a pivotal moment, during the months leading up to the day when his father abandoned his family, never to be seen or heard from again. The protagonist, Hiroshi Nakahara, finds himself in the unique position of being able to influence, possibly even change the course of his own life and those of his classmates and family. The biggest question, of course, is whether he can figure out what caused his seemingly happy father to leave and perhaps prevent this from happening.

The premise of being able to go back in time and live your life over again, to maybe correct some mistakes you made when you were younger, is intriguing, so in spite of comics not being my favourite medium I found myself drawn in by this story. What I liked about this manga was its quiet pace and gentle exploration of Hiroshi's life and of the culture of a small city in mid-20th century Japan. Although Hiroshi has some big questions to explore during his time-travelling experience, he also takes the time to enjoy himself, to savor the pleasure of being in a younger body and being a carefree high-school student, without the burdens of a wife, family and career.

The only thing I didn't really like about reading this story (it's in two novels, in case you are thinking of picking it up) was that they "flipped" the manga so that the book is read from left-to-right instead of the usual Japanese style. Although there's a note inside the book saying this was done with the approval of the author, I still don't like the idea that I'm not seeing the images the way Taniguchi originally drew them.

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