When a film makes it to the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival it does so because it is distinct, unconventional and original. This is true for Tatsumi, but its innovative façade is built on the foundation of a good old-fashioned tribute, one which mesmerizes regardless of your familiarity with its subject.

In 2D animation that’s a colorful comic book come to life, we are introduced to Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a young boy growing up in postwar Japan. Tatsumi has a talent for drawing manga, and we follow him from his first doodles through his life as a struggling artist to his pioneering role in the Gekiga (or serious/grown-up comics) movement. Interspersed with this, in black and white, are stories from Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life: Hell, about a photographer who captures an iconic image in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb, Beloved Monkey, where an unfortunate factory worker looks for change in his life, Just a Man, the story of a retiring manager who hates his wife and wants to have an affair, Occupied, in which a failing artist finds solace in vulgar toilet graffiti (the only story in color) and Good-Bye, the tale of a good time girl abandoned by the American GI she loved.

Tatsumi is an important film because it is among the first to break away from the defining characteristics of Singaporean cinema. That’s not to say that slow meditative pieces that shed light on the Singaporean psyche don’t have their value, but for too long the film industry here has been something of a one trick pony. Tatsumi transcends such boundaries.

The film has a little bit of everything—drama, history, sadness, sex and humor—but above all, it is that rare piece which is both accessible and entertaining without having to sacrifice any of its artistic strengths. It also features a talented voice cast (not least Tatsumi himself who narrates his life story) and an exquisite score.

This may be a salute from one artist to another, one which honors the life and work of but one man, but it is also a celebration of artistic spirit, manga culture and the joy of film. It is a catalog of the journeys we take and the people we meet in this drifting life.
Read our interview with director Eric Khoo.