I enjoyed Bakuman (バクマン。) very much. This Japanese film about breaking into the manga world has a good story, sympathetic characters, appealing actors, and lots of laughs. There are some lessons in friendship, co-operation and work/life balance, too, if you care to notice them; they didn’t seem heavy-handed to me, but feel free to ignore them if you’d rather.
And for the squeamish among you, no one gets any fingers cut off, either.
High-school students Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki), try to create a manga AND have it accepted by the prestigious weekly magazine Shonen Jump. They aim high, these guys! Moritaka will draw and Akito will create the storyline.
There are multiple motives, including pride, the spirit of competition, money, and a desire for a future as someone other than an office drone. Moritaka’s main reason is to impress fellow student Miho (Nana Komatsu). He spends most of his class time sketching her surreptitiously. But the pure joy of creation is a very big part of it, too, and that’s a big part of the film’s appeal for me.
Moritaka can draw very well, but he must learn some new techniques, with pens and brushes, to make a manga. We learn these techniques along with him, and hear the scritch, scritch, scritch of his pen quite clearly. He already has a big advantage, since he spent many of his childhood years in the studio of his late uncle, who was a famous manga artist. In fact, that studio is still available for him to work in. (I didn’t quite grasp why that room had been left unused all that time. But never mind!)
The visuals in Bakuman are great. Facts about manga scroll across the screen; sometimes it’s like we’re inside a drawing, other times the characters are fighting like martial artists, with giant pens and brushes as their weapons. The newsroom of Shonen Jump is a sight to behold – it’s huge with lots of art on the walls and enormous piles of paper everywhere. Is that the real office, or a set? I won’t stop writing to find out right now, but I’m mighty curious! If it’s a set, what a job it must have been to create it. Fun, too, I imagine. (UPDATE: It is a set, but it does look like the Shonen Jump office.)
Takayuki Yamada plays Akira Hattori, the editor our guys meet when they visit Shonen Jump. His character is rather scruffy and subdued, but he’s impressed by their work and he offers solid support and advice.
Lily Franky plays an editor-in-chief who seems very mean at best and downright sinister at other times. Since I’ve seen him play gangsters and psychopaths in other films, the sinister part might just be in my own head.
Shota Sometani, who seems to be in half the films coming out of Japan these days, plays Eiji Niizuma, a rival manga artist, who is also still in high school. He dresses in all in black and scuttles around in a crab-like manner that recalls assorted horror movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. He’s already ruined his body by spending so many hours scrunched over his drawings.
This film about manga artists is based on a manga itself. (Of course it is!) I can’t claim to know much about manga myself, but viewers who do will likely pick up lots of references and enjoy many inside jokes. Maybe they could share them with me!
Takeru Satoh was the star of the wonderful film If Cats Disappeared From the World, which had a sold-out screening at Fantasia this year. He was also the star of the live-action Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. Ryunosuke Kamiki was in two of the Rurouni Kenshin films, and in two other films in this year’s Fantasia selection, As the Gods Will, and Too Young To Die. He was in Poison Berry in My Brain, a hit at Fantasia 2015.
Directed by: Hitoshi One
Written by: Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata
Cast: Takeru Satoh, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Takayuki Yamada, Nana Komatsu
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Runtime: 120 min.
You can see Bakuman as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival, at 6:40 p.m. Saturday, July 30, 2016, at the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd W. Fantasia runs until Aug. 3, 2016.