You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MANGA MANIA: NON NON BA by Shigeru Mizuki

This is Japanese folklorist and manga artist Shigeru Mizuki's memoir of his 1930's childhood in the small coastal town of Sakaiminato. The small boys of the town play constantly at war, staging pitched battles with rocks and traps aimed at enemies across town. Shigeru, an artist at heart, befriends the elderly woman who lives near by and she regales him with stores of Yokai, the demon spirits, sometimes playful and sometimes dangerous, that fill the houses and surrounding countryside of Sakaiminato. When Non Non Ba's husband dies and she can no longer care for herself, she moves in with Mizuki's family. His father is a dreamer and very poor businessman, frequently fired from his low level jobs at banks and sales firms and a failure in his attempt to open the first local movie theater. Shigeru's mother, resentful of her reduced circumstances, repeats tiresomely that her family was allowed to use a last name and own a sword before her marriage to her deadbeat husband.

The creatures Non Non Ba describes in her stories are real. Shigeru feels their presences, at times he can see them, and in at least one instance he befriends a yokai, a disheveled monster who scatters adukii beans in the attic. In later life Mizuki would become famous as an creator of yokai manga, but despite the creatures pervasive presence in Non Non Ba, this novel is as much about pre WW II life in s small town as it is about folklore. The pretend wars Shigeu's friends "play" are vicious and the rules are as draconian and unreasonable as those he would later expose among the Japanese Imperial Army in his anti-war masterpiece, Onward to our Glorious Deaths,His father is a gentle but tragic character, and his mother is both comic and pathetic in her inability to let go of what she sees as her glorious past. The child's life is surrounded by tragedy. A young girl from Tokyo who is cared for by Non Non Ba dies of tuberculosis. The seemingly respectable family who moves to town in fact deals in selling young girls to distant geisha houses. 

Mizuki's interweaving of the fantastic and the everyday is seamless and convincing, and his story is gentle and moving. A twelve-mile hike to taste the first doughnuts brought to this remote area of Japan is as entertaining as a trip to an undersea cave to witness a yokai floor show.


In Mizuki's hometown Sakaiminato, sculptures of Yokai
line the road to the railway station. This is the
Wall Yokai, admittedly not one of the more
frightening variety.
This Yokai is so frightening it has cause Shigura and
Non Non Ba to speak Spanish

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