- Mori Minoru's Day of Resurrection
As Japanese science fiction entered the new millennium, its fans might have expected the awakening of elder powers, forces that had long lain dormant. Yet no one foresaw the second coming of Mori Minoru.
A phantom manga artist who published fifty years ago, Mori was the force behind a short-lived but influential series of comics that ceased publication with a puzzling suddenness in the fifties. In the last few years Shôgakkan has finally published facsimile editions of this artist's complete works, which were acknowledged in their day by the likes of Tezuka Osamu, then an up-and-coming artist himself. Matsumoto Leiji (famous in Japan and the West for manga like Star Blazers [Uchû senkan Yamato] and Galaxy Express 999 [Ginga tetsudô 999]) listed Mori, Tezuka, and Tagawa Kikuo as the period's three great artists.
But despite this acclaim, one day the man who called himself Mori Minoru stopped publishing and all but disappeared. It was almost ten years before he surfaced again, this time as a writer of fiction. In 1961 he entered a science fiction story contest sponsored by Hayakawa's SF Magazine and won an honorable mention for his story "Pacem in Terris" ("Chi ni wa heiwa o"). The next year he debuted in the same magazine under a new name, with "Memoirs of [End Page 87] an Eccentric Time Traveler" ("Ekisentoriki"). And in 1963, "Pacem in Terris" and "The Taste of Green Tea and Rice" ("Ochazuke no aji") were nominated for the fiftieth Naoki Prize, Japan's best-known award for fledgling authors of popular fiction. This was the death of the manga artist Mori and simultaneously the birth of the first generation of Japanese science fiction, in the person of one of its great masters, Komatsu Sakyô. Komatsu would go on to help found the genre of prose science fiction in Japan and then help export it to the West with his novel Japan Sinks, which was translated into English, Spanish, Russian, and a half dozen other Western languages.
What summoned Komatsu's early manga from the dead just a few years ago was the discovery (on the shelves of the manga store Mandarake) of a single copy of his work Subterrocean (Daichiteikai, 1950–52). This prompted Komatsu to search his own archives, where he uncovered the manuscripts for many of the manga he penned in his student days. Hearing of the (re)discovery in the fall of 2001, editors at Shôgakkan rushed to reissue the works, and in early 2002 they were published in four volumes as The Complete Phantom Manga of Mori Minoru, a.k.a. Komatsu Sakyô (Maboroshi no Komatsu Sakyô = Mori Minoru manga zenshû). Komatsu had just turned seventy, a time for retrospective publications, and one can hardly imagine a more fitting one.1
Komatsu was born Komatsu Minoru, in Osaka in 1931. He attended Kyoto University, graduating in 1954 with a major in Italian literature and a taste for the avant-garde: his thesis was on Luigi Pirandello, and he was an avid reader of experimental Japanese authors like Hanada Kiyoteru and Abe Kôbô. In the years after the war much of Japan was struggling economically, and as an impoverished student, Komatsu turned to manga as a source of income. Inspired by the work of Tezuka Osamu, in 1949 he started drawing under the pen name Mori Minoru. He found that manga were easier to sell than prose manuscripts: publishers bought all of his work, and he was soon earning money. After graduation he had a series of other jobs—as a factory manager, a radio comedy (manzai) writer, and a correspondent for the financial magazine Atom—up until his debut as a science fiction author.
In 1964 Komatsu's novel The Japanese Apache (Nihon Apache zoku) sold over fifty thousand copies. In the same year he published Day of Resurrection [End Page 88] (Fukkatsu no hi), which Battle Royal director Fukasaku Kinji filmed in 1980. In 1966 Komatsu wrote At the End of an Endless Stream (Hateshi naki nagare no hate ni), a work that still regularly tops the...