Fumio Obata’s Just So Happens: Lost in Transition
by rick olivares
At some point in our lives, we go through a midlife crisis and ask, “Where am I going?” In fact, we may even ask that same question over and over. That is until it is answered.
Some times, we find out the answer at an early age. For others, it comes at a later stage when we are supposedly wiser and more experienced. But really, that moment of clarity is arrived at when we can handle the truth much better.
Fumio Obata’s Just So Happens asks those questions and perhaps provides an inflective insight into today’s habitués of that shrinking homogenous global village.
Just So Happens is a beautifully drawn and bittersweet 160-page graphic novel of introspection and realization. It tells about Yumiko, a young Japanese woman who has made London her home but during a family crisis returns to her native land where she has to wrestle with the decision to return to her old life or embrace the new one she finds herself living in.
That Just So Happens is created by a Japanese male who now resides in Gloucestershire, England and written from a woman’s point of view is remarkable and also poignant.
Yumiko’s father and the Noh Theater that Yumiko finds herself revisiting represents the old Japan – extremely codified and regulated with an emphasis on tradition as opposed to innovation. That innovation is represented by Yumiko’s mother who divorced her husband because she found the traditional staid life impressed upon Japanese women stifling and cumbersome. Through her, Yumiko, a modern Japanese woman, lives out her dream of studying and working abroad. And even better for her, being engaged to an Englishman.
Only Yumiko balks at her life that she has now found to be routine. Her sudden return to Japan because of the death of her father has given her a point to ponder. While wandering around Japan, she stumbles upon a Noh performance that haunts her thoughts and dreams. Later she pushes the shite (the lead performer); it’s a firm rejection of the doubts that plague her.
It is during a conversation with her mother that provides a tipping point:
Mother: “Life has a time limit. And we are changing all the time. So are out ambitions, desires, and purposes. The important thing is to find something that never changes you.”
And it ends with the same scene that opened Just So Happens with Yumiko’s initial thoughts: “How long have I been here for? With this noise, chaos, busyness, energy, and openness. I still remember arriving in the city for the first time. I was excited being among those different lives, lives with different roots and cultures. And somehow, I managed to create my own little space too. Am proud to be a part despite the harshness and the tension circulating in the air.”
“I am Japanese and still go back to Japan now and then. But here, London, is my home.”
And that mails it for Yumiko. It’s a simple truth but true for all those who live in global villages.
The same can be said about Obata’s writing that is simple and clear yet is brilliantly deep. That the story unfolds like Zen guarantees that when you close the book you’ll exclaim, “That was bloody brilliant!”
The same can be said about his artwork that is just as lovely and gorgeous. There’s an old school approach to his artwork that reminds me of the genius of French artist Paul Galdone (Anatole) and Charles Addams (The New Yorker) to name a few.
That my copy of Just So Happens comes with a special bookplate (numbered 24 out of 200) that is signed by Obata makes it even more special.
Definitely, Obata is a shining new talent whose work must be highly anticipated for the gems he produces.
Just So Happens is Lost in Translation in reverse. And this is a story for anyone who has every traveled and had their eyes opened to new horizons and new opportunities then at some point questioned whether they were headed in the right direction.
If you liked Gabriel Ba’s and Fabio Moon’s Daytripper as well as Michael Cho’s Shoplifter and you’re one to hit the repeat button when the Dave Matthews Band’s “Where are you going?” plays, then pick up Fumio Obata’s Just So Happens. You just might find yourself within.
Note: I purchased Fumio Obata’s Just So Happens at Gosh Comics in London, England. I believe the graphic novel is also available on amazon or from the shop for delivery. It costs £16.99.