We’re all haunted by our past – for better or worse. Not just our own past, but the past of our parents and ancestors. In our fast moving culture, we’re haunted by the traditions we shed as we try to fit into modern life.
In the graphic novel, Just So Happens by Fumio Obata, a young Japanese woman who has settled in London, is doing her best not to look back, to develop her own world and personality. But an exquisite ghost is dancing through her life, a masked Noh performer, forcing her to reconnect with her past.
In London, Yumiko has a good job and a good fiancé. Then she receives news that her father has died and she has to go back to Japan.
Plunged into the rituals of death and the structure of Japanese life, she finds herself oddly removed and unemotional about her father’s death. She’s sarcastic and annoyed by the commercialization of the funeral rituals.
Her ghost leans in on her, pushing against Yumiko’s façade. And she pushes back. In the tussle, she finds new strength, a way to grieve, and a way to bring the spirits of her past into her life without losing her hard won identity.
I’ve read this book twice, marveling at the lovely illustrations, and the intimate storytelling. In its subtly, it makes a forceful statement about how identity is constantly shifting around our own image of ourselves, the expectations we’re trying to live up to, and the demands of our heritage. We shift between the dream world, the real world, and what we perceive as our history.
The metaphor of the Noh dancer speaks on many levels, and though she’s a symbol of a particular aspect of Japanese society, she speaks to all of us as we perform our own dance of balance.
Fumio Obata was born in Tokyo and moved to England in 1991. He studied illustration at the Glasgow school of art and the Royal College of Art in London. He’s worked in animation, comic books and illustration. He has a great website that showcases his full range of intriguing artwork, and a blog, which I just discovered and started following. It includes his personal and informative coverage of the triple disaster that struck Japan in 2011: Quake News From Elsewhere: Life After the Tsunami.”
Just So Happens is beautifully bound by Abrams Comicarts. A good comfortable book to hold and read, the muted colors of the illustration give it an autumnal feeling. I found the rich visual storytelling most illuminating in pondering mortality during this season when I watch leaves fall, celebrate Halloween and the Day of the Dead, and remember my lost loved ones.
“An old relative told us at the end of it…’You see how ephemeral life can be? So make the most of it while you can…’ I knew someone was going to say that to us. People always try to finish it off with a cliché like that. To give you a reason for the things you do. And we are changing all the time. So are our ambitions, desires and purposes…The important thing is to find something that never changes in you.” — Fumio Obata
I found a bit of that something in this book. I hope you do, too.