Created by: Susumu Katsumata
Published by: Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 1897299869 (Amazon)
The care with which Drawn & Quarterly packaged this collection of Susumu Katsumata’s short stories somewhat troubles me. It really is a handsome edition, a durable hardcover wrapped in pleasing design and containing in its backmatter an interview with the mangaka as well as an article describing the importance of the work. For those built to appreciate Katsumata’s achievement here, this edition of Red Snow is almost certainly a treasure. I’m only sorry I couldn’t be counted among those who would so value the production.
Red Snow, for me, has exactly one use. It proposes an unveiling of a mid-twentieth century rural Japan that stands as an illumination of a society that may be forever lost to the march of time. The details of rural, traditional Japanese culture are fascinating and Katsumata does a good job adding in trivialities that add a sense of realism to often magical stories. In “Red Snow,” the story that gives the collection its title, Katsumata spends some pages showing the labour involved in preparing sake yeast. In another, he leans on the use and social texture of mulberries. Several tales involve the activity of traveling Buddhist monks. In manner similar to Stan Sakai (though more pervy), Katsumata involves some of the more mythical aspects of traditional Japanese folklore, such as kappas and tree spirits.
It may not look it, but this is actually a scene of dendrophilia.
Most forcefully what Red Snow accomplishes, however, is to present a picture of a people. I have no measure by which to gauge the honesty of the portrait Katsumata paints through his stories, but if they are to be believed, non-urban Japan was built on the lives of a very earthy people. These are men and women whose entire lives are built on hard work and sex. If memory serves, every single story featured infidelity, rape, whores, or some manner of lusty embrace. If Katsumata’s world is to be believed, then mid-century Japan was a pretty horny place in which women are routinely beaten and the patriarchy is well established and indelibly ingrained.
Yep. This guy is more upset by the fact that the curly-haired woman
was a little drunk than by the fact that she is plainly being raped. Charming.
Not that the women don’t sometimes give as good as they get. In “A Pulp Novel about a Sack,” the women of a village tie up a traveler in a sack and pass him from house to house while their men are away tending to the business of their agrarian society. It’s never certain just how willing a participant the man in the sack is: has he simply accepted his lot, enjoying his time in the sack or is he being somehow raped in weakened state?
Par for Katsumata’s course.
The problem with Red Snow is that as fascinating as this vantage into Japanese culture may be, the stories themselves play out awkwardly as the narrative sometimes lurches from panel to panel. Often, and this may be due to my ignorance of the culture being portrayed, it’s difficult to tell exactly what is happening between panels and sometimes even in a particular panel. Katsumata’s transitions, while sometimes beautiful, are more commonly too abrupt, giving the reader too few clues as to what he has in mind. And while some of his brushwork is handsome, most of his characters are drawn in a way that makes it difficult to understand exactly what they are meant to be expressing.
In the end, while there were things I appreciated in Red Snow, there were more things that I didn’t. It’s not a work to which I will likely return. I felt there was value in reading it but there was no enjoyment in the experience. Red Snow felt more like a chore than it did one more step into enjoyable comics literature.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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