A Journal of My Father review – a story of fatherhood from legendary mangka

Fanfare start off the year with another entry in the back catalogue of acclaimed mangaka Jiro Taniguchi with one of his most personal works – A Journal of My Father. Yoichi Yamashita sets off to his hometown after hearing about his father’s passing after an absence of well over a decade during which time he has not seen his father. But as the relatives gather for the funeral and the stories start to flow, Yoichi’s childhood starts to resurface. The Spring afternoons playing on the floor of his father’s barber shop, the fire that ravaged the city and his family home, his parents’ divorce and a new ‘mother’. Through confidences and memories shared with those who knew him best, Yoichi rediscovers the man he had long considered an absent and rather cold father.

In his afterword, Taniguchi describes how the story was inspired by a trip he made to his hometown to visit some old friends and his family. Whilst this trip wasn’t prompted by the death of a family member, it did stir up nostalgic feelings and give Taniguchi an appreciation of how welcoming his family was even after his long absence. It is clear reading this manga how these experiences inspired the story.

Yoichi’s misunderstanding of his father runs deep throughout most of the story, being too young to understand why his father is working so hard to repay a loan on his barbershop. His father works to the point of distancing himself from the rest of his family. Consequently, Yoichi puts all the blame on his father when his parents separate. It is only on this trip to his hometown and the self-reflection that follows that he realises that he had misunderstood his father, and subsequently learns of the positive influence that he had on both their local community and his own life.

There are familiar themes that run through the story including troubled adolescence, as Yoichi struggles to find something to keep him going as he deals with the (at times self-inflicted) widening gap between him and his family. We see him take up track, photography and caring for a dog; but none of these seem to fill the void he feels.  But the main theme is definitely fatherhood, with Taniguchi superbly depicting a complicated relationship between father and son plagued with misunderstandings and stubbornness on both sides. The scenes set in the present with Yoichi reflecting on his father with his family and old friends does a lot to enhance this.

This work is also another example of Taniguchi’s strong artistic flair. His style is far less stylised and exaggerated than what you normally see in manga, which is a perfect fit for the type of storytelling on display here. The way he manages to pack power into relatively simple images (like a backshot of Yoichi’s father cutting someone’s hair) is truly impressive. Like his other work, Taniguchi also does a brilliant job of accurately depicting the period and the fashions at the time.

This is a powerful and moving manga about family that many readers will find relatable. Whether you are a long-time fan of Taniguchi or not, it’s well worth a read.

A Journal of My Father is published 21 January 2021 from Fanfare (9781912097432, h/b, £20.00)

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