Popular comic strip story conveys the strength of Hiroshima

by Yoko Nitta, Staff Writer

The fragility of human life and the strength of human beings to rise again. Set in Hiroshima, the comic strip story “The Sun You Gave Me” unfolds from the days before war began to the atomic bombing and reconstruction of the city. This comic strip is now running in the comic book “BE LOVE” published by Kodansha. The author, Shiyori Matsuo, paid several visits to Hiroshima and conducted a number of interviews to research the background of her story. The result is a tale that stands out strongly in the collection of stories that make up “BE LOVE,” a comic book targeting women in their 30s with a circulation of 200,000.

Ms. Matsuo’s story, appearing as a serial, began its biweekly run of installments in May. The setting is Kawaya-cho in the heart of Hiroshima (now, the Hondori area, a popular commercial district), before and after the war, and depicts the lives of sweethearts and family members who provide each other with loving support, even through their darkest days.

In other stories, too, Ms. Matsuo has taken up the theme of war. One recurring motif is the cruelty of ordinary lives shattered in an instant and the human strength involved in overcoming this suffering. For the values Ms. Matsuo expresses in her work, the subject of Hiroshima, a city which rose again from the devastation of an atomic bombing, is fitting material.

Ms. Matsuo was raised in the prefectures of Aichi and Osaka and she now lives in Tokyo. Initially, this concerned her. “I wondered if I could really create a story about Hiroshima, considering I’m not personally connected to the city,” she said. “I didn’t want people there to be unhappy about it in some way.” Fortunately, though, she experienced strong support from those she met in Hiroshima during her visits to the city to research the material.

Satoshi Takata, 44, is among the people Ms. Matsuo spoke with. Mr. Takata is a second-generation A-bomb survivor and he runs a clothing store, located on the Hondori shopping street, that has been in his family since before the war. Mr. Takata’s grandfather was killed in the bombing. “In whatever form, I want the tragedy of Hiroshima to be handed down,” he said while showing photographs that were taken before the war.

“Mr. Takata’s father rebuilt the shop from the rubble of that same spot,” explained Ms. Matsuo. “I was awed by his sense of responsibility in succeeding his father. He served as the inspiration for one of my characters.”

“BE LOVE” devoted the opening pages of its comic book to the first installment of the series. “It made me think deeply about my life and about living it fully”… “I felt close to the story, since it’s set in Hiroshima, with familiar places like Fukuya Department Store”…these are just two of the many reactions Ms. Matsuo has received from readers. This positive response from the comic book community about a story with a serious theme--an industry where entertainment is generally the primary aim--has been very gratifying to her. “The Sun You Gave Me” will come to a climax this summer and will conclude in the fall.

(Originally published on June 18, 2008)