Overview

In With The Old

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Old Boy, Volume 1, by Garon Tsuchiya (story) and Nobuaki Minegishi (art).  Dark Horse Manga, 2006.

With the recent English-language publication of Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi’s thriller Old Boy , originally serialized in Japan beginning in 1996, U.S. readers at last have access to the work of two masters of the sequential medium. 

Fans of The Count of Monte Cristo will recognize the set-up, with a few twists evoking later revenge narratives like The Fugitive and, especially, The Bourne Identity .  A man with no memory of his past is released from a privately-guarded cell where he’s been held for ten years. He vows revenge – but first he must solve the mystery of who he is and why he was imprisoned.

Writer Tsuchiya plots his tale with a deliberative pace, acknowledging the luxury of extending the events over hundreds of pages.  And artist Minegishi obliges him, illustrating one decompressed sequence after another, each drawn out in a striking cinematic fashion.

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We first meet our hero (who later adopts the name “Yamashita”) through the eyes of a delivery boy from a Chinese restaurant, supplying the captive with sustenance.  The cramped space of the crowded restaurant kitchen on the first page, divided into nine panels, gives way to a double paged spread of Yamashita in his cell – ironically creating the illusion of spaciousness.  While trapped in a cell, Yamashita has not allowed his spirit to be constrained. 

A nearly wordless sequence follows over the next five pages, as the delivery boy is increasingly drawn into Yamashita’s inner sanctum.  And in this extended series of panels Minegishi demonstrates the skill with which he will illustrate the events to follow.  In an establishing panel, the tiny figure of the boy looks up at the building from a sharp upward perspective, while on the following page we abruptly pull in to a microscopic level as we focus on his finger pushing an elevator button to a mysterious unknown floor numbered 7.5.  These varied perspectives and montage-like juxtapositions, turning attention even upon the food itself, mimic the art of a skilled film editor – and also call to mind such early masters of the manga form as Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima (Lone Wolf and Cub ). 

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Even more effective is the scene in which Yamashita is finally released.  First, in a burst of sudden violence, erupting into a half-page splash, Yamashita disarms his captors as they try to drug him.  But his attack fails, and he is shoved into a car trunk and then dumped in an isolated forest.  While the panels are cramped and pages are crowded, as Yamashita gets his bearings in a forest, we open again to a wide angle splash page, followed by a close-up of our hero’s beaming face as he realizes his freedom.  Tsuchiya captions the second of these panels with the word “Freedom,” but the text is redundant.  Minegishi’s images leave no doubt of the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings.

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In the following chapters, Minegishi cuts frequently to narrow panels featuring only Yamashita’s eyes – reminding us that we’re seeing from our hero’s point of view, and reflecting his sharp, inquisitive perceptions of a world far different from the one he left a decade before.  Moreover, his darting glances, measuring each potential enemy, again evoke the style and presentation of Kojima’s Lone Wolf .

While many remarkable sequences follow in Volume 1 alone, perhaps the greatest display of the creators’ virtuosity is in Chapter 6, titled simply “Developing.”  The chapter opens with a full-page splash dominated by Yamashita’s face as he puffs for breath, doing one-handed push-ups in the cell to maintain his strength.  The image segues on the following page to a flash-forward of Yamashita’s enigmatic enemy and former captor, who appears suspended in space as he swims in a massive indoor pool.  The simple act of a butler bringing the phone toward the pool, as the gangster emerges to take it, is told in a juxtaposition of images growing progressively closer.  And a few pages later, what appears to be another shot of the pool morphs into a vat of film developing fluid, as the image of Yamashita “develops” before his former captor’s eyes.

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Aside from the distinctive visual style of the book, the plot of Volume 1 (the first of eight that will complete the Dark Horse edition) moves along briskly as a thriller, with a bit of R-rated sex mixed in with the violence, as Yamashita attracts the attentions of a virginal waitress drawn to his “aura.”   This confident veneer remains unwavering even after his long captivity – to the consternation of his captor, who mournfully observes that his “experiment” may therefore have failed.

Given the filmic quality of Old Boy, it is unsurprising that in 2003 it was adapted into the similarly-titled international hit Oldboy , directed by Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook and released in the U.S. in 2005.  In fact, it was likely the critical and commercial success of the screen adaptation that prompted Dark Horse to begin publication of the book ten years after its Japanese debut.  At any rate, discerning fans should welcome this long-delayed opportunity.

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Jeff Loew has been named a finalist in the "Be A Visionary" contest sponsored by Visionary Comics Studio and Markosia Enterprises.  His story,"I Married Ghost Girl," appears in the Arcana anthology, Dark Horrors, listed in Previews (SEP06 3063) and available soon in fine comic shops everywhere. Find out more about Jeff's work at his website, www.movingpanels.com.

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