Sachiko Yamaguchi and Ichiro Nishimoto are ordinary people, in so much as people in creative professions are ordinary, and they lead ordinary lives where their predominant concerns are making ends meet, marriage, love, and death. Yet, like everyone who leads ordinary lives—and most of us do—they have extraordinary aspirations. Some would call the couple shallow and, indeed, they seem far removed from happenings in the world around them, obsessed primarily with their own lives. In that too, they are not different from most people.
Sachiko and Ichiro are the protagonists of a lovely graphic novel by Seiichi Hayashi. It was written in the early 1970s, and Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly—a publisher of alternative graphic novels—published an English translation in 2008. I only recently laid my hands on this book on an increasingly rare visit to a book store (most of my reading is downloaded in electronic form now, on the Kindle store for books and comiXology for comics).
Red Colored Elegy: It depicts what goes on in the characters’ minds.
Red Colored Elegy appealed to me for three reasons. One, its sparse text and simple illustrations make it an easy read. Two, I definitely sense pop art and anime influences in the graphic novel and that lends an entirely different sort of visual appeal to the book. There are other visual cues as well; to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the manga magazine Garo where Hayashi was trying to make a mark around the time he wrote the book. A Japanese will probably find more visual cues.
The third reason will need some explaining. It is difficult to author a 230-page book, even if it is only a graphic novel, where much of the action seems to be taking place in the minds of the characters. Yet, I do not think it would have been possible to do so in any medium other than a graphic novel. To me, this alone elevates Red Colored Elegy (if it needs any elevation) into a classic though I did find the portrayal of Sachiko a bit sexist; still, the book was written in the early 1970s, when Japan itself was a sexist society.
A graphic novel comes about not just because its author can draw or knows someone who can draw, but because he or she wants to tell a story that is made for the medium. There are some works that transcend media. There are others that work well only in one. Red Colored Elegy would have made a bad book and a worse movie, but it makes a wonderful graphic novel.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint. Write to him at email@example.com