Japan Before The Last War

Shigeru Mizuki

Shigeru Mizuki is one of Japan’s masters of animation and cartooning. He specializes in yokai, cultural anthropology tinged with the supernatural and filled with animals thought to possess magical powers, some of them taking the form of monsters (think: Mothra, Godzilla, etc.). At age 92, however, Mizuki has turned his gifts on the even larger, stranger animal of his homeland, to create a four-volume portrait of twentieth-century Japan thousands of pages in length (this volume alone has 560 pages). Daunting as that sounds, Mizuki is as playful as he is thorough, using a narrator named Rat Man, who serves as his guide through the wreckage.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan, the first volume of this epic, has just been published by Drawn & Quarterly, which published his stunning look at World War II from behind Japanese lines, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, two years ago. That book was drawn almost entirely from his own experiences during the war, in which he lost his left arm to an Allied bombing, nearly died from malaria and was a prisoner of war on New Guinea.

Showa is as brilliantly drawn and meticulously footnoted as Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. It is also a chilling reminder of the relentless plodding toward world war that began as early as the aftermath of the “Great War” (World War One). Showa takes Japan right up to the brink of Pearl Harbor.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki, Drawn & Quarterly, 560 pages, $24.95, www.drawnandquarterly.com

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