Manga comics will always be closely associated with Japan. It won’t be a surprise if much of the younger generation grows up aspiring to be one of the comic artists. For the same reason, Masanao Kawajiri’s 20-minute short feels completely plausible for a young painter wanting to work in comics, more than anything else. Besides, these comics are not just skilfully illustrated but the storytelling is filled with enough wonder to feed a naïve mind’s curiosity.
‘A Japanese Boy Who Draws’ begins with its central character Shinji drawing in his childlike style, without any kind of pretense. The innocence is clearly visible even through the style used in the film itself. He, from that age, seems to be inclined more towards being a manga artist than anything else. So much so that he keeps repeating his desire whenever he gets a chance. Meanwhile, we meet his friend Masaru, who has his own interpretation of drawing people with colorful masks on. His mother explains how he’s inspired to draw people with wrestling masks on, while we see the strange pictures as being told by the narrator. Besides, he hardly seems concerned about whatpeople think of him until he finds childlike joy in his work.
As we move forward, we see Shinji’s drawing style developing towards being more realistic and much more refined in respect to the human anatomy, among other factors. He takes continuous and extreme efforts to perfect his skills while losing the human connection in his life. As a result, even after spending much on art school education, his work hardly seemed ‘vivid’, as his teacher says. The film ultimately reaches to a moment of realization where the animation turns to live footage in the soulless monochrome. In this world, everything else that he has abandoned or lost over time appears colorful and as a result, joyful. The innocence missing from his pictures is clearly seen from the pictures that he sees in Shinji’s drawings when he visits a local exhibition hall.
Throughout its runtime, various animation styles are used and even incorporated within a single frame, in the film. The director clearly seems aware of these styles, which is apparent from the growth he portrays of these characters through different ages. The music elevates the emotional impact, making the narration much more engaging. The purposeful use of different aspects of art is praiseworthy as well. The transitions between these styles never feel jarring, which clearly works for the better of the film.
Despite all of it, ‘A Japanese Boy Who Draws’ seems to have much-simplified solutions to each problem while trying to find closure to the overall subject. The defining moment of the film, even after being convincing for the script, ends up being short to the real experience that an artist goes through. It leaves you with a smile on your face but doesn’t satisfy completely because of its oversimplified approach for the script.