Naoki Urasawa x JapanHouse LA

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A manga treasure of  epic proportions has been discovered and it is all thanks to JapanHouse LA. That treasure is just barely learning about Naoki Urasawa.

Words cannot describe how incredibly dismayed I am to have just discovered this highly acclaimed and prolific manga artist. Therefore, I will spread and showcase this discovery so you will not feel that dismay. For I am all shades of excited to share in this discovery!

 

It had all begun with an invite to revisit JapanHouse LA after the Short Shorts Festival for a US exhibition of a manga artist. As much as I enjoy manga, my knowledge and experience of the art form is very minimal.  The exposure to such works has been limited to what is available in the US and has been translated into English.  And even then, there is even fewer that I am keen to follow as manga series can go as long as 74 volumes (I’m eyeing you BLEACH).  Before visiting the exhibit, I sourced the local library for any works by the artist and found MONSTER.

 

 

Within milliseconds, I was engrossed. I had to be mindful of my fingers of getting a paper cut as I was flipping the pages so quickly.

In MONSTER, a brilliant, handsome Japanese doctor is working in Germany. Dr. Kenzo Tenma has everything lined up for him. He’s highly regarded, he’s dating the Hospital Director’s daughter, and is pretty guaranteed to succeed as the next Hospital Director.  Even though his girlfriend is spoiled trash or that his operations are dictated by the Hospital Directors motivations for political power,  Tenma is content to just keep going. All the while convincing himself that he is still faithful to being a doctor. Until a night where Tenma has to make a decision on operating on a young boy with a gunshot wound to the head or a powerful political figure suffering from a heart condition. Despite the Hospital Director threats and manipulation to work on the political figure,  Tenma makes his stand and saves the young boy. Granted, it should have been fine. There were other perfectly capable hospital doctors to work on the other patient. Instead, the young boy survives and the political figure does not.  Everything that had been shiny and good has now shattered. Tenma is forced to work overtime and his girlfriend leaves him to latch herself upon another lucrative prospect.  None of this breaks him as Tenma still forges on, positive that what he did was right, as his role as a Doctor.  It is only when Tenma discovers that the young boy he saved is a killer does his convictions fray.

 

This story is more than a thriller. This is also ultimately a story of morality and boundaries. As Tenma sheds his life of a prestigious doctor and is framed as a killer, his journey transcends beyond just trying to find the killer. He influences and changes those that he meet. Even though some of the people that he meets are unsavory, he still manages to do what he feels is right by his doctors code. Everything in this story is rich in digging deep into character psyche and questioning the boundaries of what is good and what is right. There is no question why MONSTER is currently nominated for the 2019 Eisner Hall of Fame.  The recipient will be announced during San Diego Comic Con so I’m already rootin’ for it!

 

“This is MANGA – The Art of NAOKI URASAWA,” exhibition at JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles on Jan. 22, 2019, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles)

 

Now, I was more than happy to visit the exhibit at JapanHouse LA: The Art of Naoki Urasawa. The exhibit was held at the JapanHouse LA store, located on the ground floor of Hollywood and Highland. The store curates a wide selection of fascinating art items such as origami paper, fashionable shirts, and handmade makeup brushes. Once you are able to peel your curious eyes from the wares, then it’s straight on forward to the art space at the back of  the store.

 

“This is MANGA – The Art of NAOKI URASAWA,” exhibition at JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles on Jan. 22, 2019, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles)

There were different sections dedicated to Urasawa’s creations: MONSTER, PLUTO, 20TH CENTURY, MASTER KEATON, BILLY BAT,  YAWARA. You can walk around the section and read the story manga style and peer closely upon the hand drawn art.  One could easily hours just walking around and reading.  Even though all of the stories are different, they all share the same soft style paired with dynamic storytelling. All of it is just so smooth as you read from panel to panel.

 

“This is MANGA – The Art of NAOKI URASAWA,” exhibition at JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles on Jan. 22, 2019, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles)

Most of his works are not available in the US so seeing them was a real treat to read them up close. There are around 400 original drawings and storyboards to follow from start to finish.  YAWARA, a rom-com with Judo, is the most interactive of the exhibit. For a grander way of experiencing the serial format, a story will be added every two weeks. So definitely a reason to keep going back, along with the workshops and events that JapanHouse has to offer.

Just like the wares selected in their storefront, the exhibit is absolute high quality. The space was clean, beautiful, with every thought placed in having the viewing engaged in reading the artwork.  The only warning I can provide is to be aware of those around you. You may become so engrossed in following along the panels that you bump into another person!  All in all, a very beautiful exhibit to learn and admire Urasawa’s creation.

This is MANGA – the Art of Naoki Urasawa exhibit will be running until March 28,2019.

Visit JapanHouse LA for more for information: https://www.japanhouse.jp/losangeles/

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