Reviewed by R. Wang
Town of evening calm, Country of cherry blossoms by a Japanese artist, Fumiyo Kouno, contains two interrelated stories that bring readers to a close look at the consequences of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. Kouno’s light, free style of drawing combined with slice-of-life stories delineates vividly the lingering ghostlike fears and sorrows in survivors’ everyday lives.
The first story, “Town of Evening Calm,” tells a story about a young girl named Minami living in Hiroshima ten years after the bombing. The city seems to be recovering from its wounds; however, underneath the healing surface, Kouno exposes the ravages through delicate details. For example, the house where Minami is living is shabby and shaky; Minami walks home barefoot so as to save her only pair of shoes and Minami’s mom is almost caught sleeping nude because Minami did the laundry and her mom didn’t have any other clothes to wear. Minami is full of fears of the long-term effects of radiation and full of guilt for surviving the catastrophe while losing her father and sister in the blast. Her only brother chooses to live in Tokyo rather than return to Hiroshima.
The second story, “Country of Cherry Blossoms,” takes place nearly twenty years later in Tokyo. Nanami acts like a boy because of the absence of her mother who died of cancer as a result of the radiation. Toko, a stereotype of a graceful girl becomes the best childhood friend of Nanami. Then the story jumps forward seventeen years. When Nanami is tailing her father who has been acting weirdly recently, she runs into Toko whom she has not been in touch with for a long time. They follow Nanami’s father together to Hiroshima. Kouno starts to unfold the relationship between the first story and the second story. It turns out that Nanami’s father, Asahi, is the brother of Minami who refused to come back to Hiroshima after the bombing.
Kouno deliberately designs the characters of awkward proportion. The characters have oversized heads and feet which make them seem imperfect. However, the imperfection makes characters real as human. Thus the story sounds more credible and arouses readers’ sympathy for the victims and antipathy for the war.