How Jiro Taniguchi became a mangaka apart in the hearts of the French

Audiovisual or cinematographic adaptations of manga have flourished for many years. But the theatrical release of the animated film The Summit of the Gods, Wednesday September 22, takes on a special character for the French public. Already because it is a French production led by Patrick Imbert, but because of the very special place occupied by French readers Jiro Taniguchi, the author of the eponymous comic book (Kana, 2004 ) from which the film is inspired.

Disappeared in 2017 at the age of 69, Jiro Taniguchi is probably one of the mangakas whose name is best known in France. His intimate and introspective stories, such as My Father’s Diary (Casterman, 1999) and Distant neighborhood (Casterman, 2002), have made him one of the pillars of the genre. “He made himself famous with us, in particular with an audience that did not read manga and even did not read comics. He really went to the status of author like Tardi or Bilal ”, advances Nadia Gibert, who was its editor at Casterman, then at Rue de Sèvres.

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His bibliography is actually much larger, including action stories, literary adaptations (The Summit of the Gods is moreover taken from a novel by Baku Yumemakura), as well as the historico-social fresco. If of course not showing sales of super hits like Naruto Where One Piece, published in very distant registers, the Japanese designer has still exceeded the million and a half albums sold by Casterman, one of its main publishers in French. A paradox for an author rather confidential in his native country and for whom recognition came later in the Archipelago. “He himself was surprised by the transgenerational craze he aroused here, he thought his work was too Japanese, rather intended for an audience of mature men.”, recalls the writer and screenwriter Benoît Peeters, who knew Taniguchi and produced with him a book of interviews published in 2012 (Jiro Taniguchi, the man who draws, Casterman).

Sobriety of the line

It was first among his French-Belgian cartoonist and critical peers that enthusiasm for Taniguchi was born, in 1995, with the release of The man who walks, an original and sparse story in dialogues, a true ode to strolling and the pleasures of the walk. “This album struck and dazzled us a lot in the medium: the care of the drawing, the treatment given to nature, the meticulous quality of the decorations”, remembers Benoit Peeters, who also praises the talents of the author as a dialogueist and unparalleled narrator. “The drawing is not meant to be breathtaking but it is incredible to see the strength, the accuracy of the emotions that Taniguchi transmits with so few means”, explains Nadia Gibert.

With its universal themes and elegant modesty, Taniguchi also succeeds in seducing critics of Japanese comics.

This manga is all the more remarkable as at that time still few Japanese albums were available in French version. With his universal themes and his elegant modesty, Taniguchi also succeeds in the prowess of seducing critics of Japanese comics, who then sometimes reduced the production to characters with big eyes, disheveled hair, and unbridled brawl scenes. On the contrary, “Jiro Taniguchi’s approach often came up with the idea of ​​being able to express emotions when the character has his back, how to have as little recourse as possible to the particular signs of the manga, with exaggerated features”, analysis Corinne Quentin, former director of the French copyright office in Tokyo and agent for Jiro Taniguchi and his beneficiaries in Europe since the 2000s.

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But it is without question Distant neighborhood, a true literary phenomenon with its 450,000 copies sold in France, which brought Jiro Taniguchi out of the comic book shelves and passed down to posterity. This story of a salaryman (“Non-executive” or “employee”, in Japan) forty-something who finds himself again in his adolescent body, just before the mysterious disappearance of his father, will receive the prize for best screenplay at the Angoulême International Comic Festival (FIBD) in 2003, and will be adapted for cinema in 2010 by Belgian director Sam Garbarski.

Cover of “Quartier lointain”, one of Jiro Taniguchi's most famous works in France.

A privileged relationship with France

In addition to his indisputable talent, it was also thanks to an editorial bet that Taniguchi was able to break through in France, says Corinne Quentin:

“Jiro Taniguchi was discovered in France in an approach brought to Casterman by the author Frédéric Boilet and his movement of the new manga. He considered the manga to be much richer than the works and series for children that we knew. He wanted to create a collection and defend a more literary adult manga. “

To this end, the publisher then chooses to publish the albums, not in a Japanese reading direction, but with left-to-right leafing. “This choice was undeniably important to make it accessible to a wider public. Now the readership is mature and used to reading in the Japanese sense, but it was perhaps still too early then. », Considers Nadia Gibert.

Moreover, instead of contenting itself with turning the plates over before printing in the French sense – a mirror effect that sometimes risks making the characters left-handed, or diverting symbols -, Casterman is proud to have invested in “A real graphic translation, ambitious for the time”, according to Wladimir Labaere, current director of the Sakka manga collection, at Casterman, who will re-edit in November his complete mangaka in the initial sense of reading. “Each Taniguchi plate and album were reassembled box by box, details were reworked in respect of the original work to remain consistent with our sense of reading. “

Extract from a color plate of volume 1 of “Summit of the Gods”, by Jiro Taniguchi.

The work is done directly from Japan by Frédéric Boilet, then designer Vincent Lefrançois, with the approval and advice of Taniguchi himself. The Japanese master had in fact gotten into the habit of managing his rights in Europe in person without going through his Japanese publishers, allowing him to establish a close and friendly relationship with his Franco-Belgian collaborators and his colleagues in the ninth art. The adaptation project Summit of the gods saw the light of day during his lifetime, with his consent. Singular relationships which have ensured him ambassadors in Paris and Brussels but also made it possible to inquire about his audience in Europe, which is rather rare for the mangakas.

Jiro Taniguchi “knew a large number of artists such as Schuiten, Mattotti, Bilal, Mœbius whom he appreciated a lot”, adds Corinne Quentin.

Although he did not like being away from his drawing board for long, Jiro Taniguchi traveled late but regularly to France, notably to participate in the Angoulême festival. Because he was a great lover and connoisseur of European comics, “That he deciphered and dissected only graphically, because he could not read the dialogues”, according to Nadia Gibert. “As early as the 1970s, he was spending a lot of money and energy finding imported comics. He knew a large number of artists such as Schuiten, Mattotti, Bilal, Mœbius whom he appreciated very much ”, adds Corinne Quentin. What Benoît Peeters confirms: “He also worked with Kazuo Kamimura, himself steeped in European comics. Added to this is a love and knowledge of classic Japanese cinema, such as Ozu and Kurosawa, which was familiar to the French. “. Influences that probably infused into his style, bridged two comic book traditions and led “The most European” mangakas to be seated among those he admired.

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