MICHI Tendo and Sosuke Oimatsu live in a marriage arranged by their parents. Sosuke is a man of ill manners. He tries to get money wherever he can, and he plays around with all women. Michi seems too good to be his wife, but there are dark areas also under her perfect skin.
In her manga Nagai michi (“The Long Road”), Fumiyo Kouno draws tenderly and understandingly a couple who is not actually very unhappy but definitely not happy either.
Both Michi and Sosuke would have wanted to marry someone else. They have sex only when drunk. Still, the relentless force of everyday routine draws them together.
Fumiyo Kouno’s (b. 1968) most famous work is Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (Yuunagi no machi, sakura no kuni, 2003-2004). It is her only work that has been published in English on paper. It tells a rough love story in Hiroshima, after the atom bomb. Kouno herserf was born in Hiroshima.
She started Nagai michi before her Hiroshima-manga, but they ran mostly simultaneously. Nagai michi was publishid on Jour sutekina shufutachi from 2001 to 2004. The name of the magazine – “Jour, wonderful wives” – tells whom the story is ment for.
The fiftyfour short chapters of the manga where collected in Japan in 2005. Now the manga is available in English at JManga.com. It is one of the highlights among JManga’s mostly rather bleak offerings.
SOSUKE is lazy both at home and at work. He gets often fired, so his jobs are short and random. He courts other women so visibly that Michi must be a complete blockhead if she does not see it. Women are not as interested in Sosuke as Sosuke is in women – Sosuke cheats on everyone, borrows money and never pays back.
Obidiently Michi does all the household chores. She also works in a cafe on a ridiculous salary. Either she does not see what Sosuke is doing, or she is very very good at actively not seeing.
Even Sosuke’s brother says that Michi is too good to be Sosuke’s wife. But even Michi has an old lover. He actually was the reason why Michi decided to accept the arranged marriage with Sosuke.
“Happiness” in the family is limited to short nightly walks, drinking tea, making snowmen and eating chocolate. Even when together, Sosuke and Michi mostly live in their separate mental worlds. The relatives loudly demand children, but Sosuke and Michi are not going to have them.
Seen from outside, the situation is simple: Sosuke is a no-good man using Michi for his own benefit. Michi is a poor stupid girl who allows it. But in some strange way Sosuke and Michi fit well together. They are amicably together, they quarrel amicably, they agree easily on divorcing and they agree easily on reuniting.
Slowly but unavoidably, being together leads to mutual concern. Maybe it would be impossible for them to live without each other.
VERY skillfully Fumiyo Kouno describes an ambivalent and contradictory relationship. Little by little the couple fits into the box where family, society and tradition have placed them.
I think this story is well received by the Japanese housewives who read Jour sutekina shufutachi. Readers of some some other magazine might not like it at all.
Nagai michi is built of two kinds of chapters. Some of the chapters describe the marriage of Sosuke and Michi very realistically, with all its comedy and tragedy.
Other chapters are drawn in a different style; more painted, more sketchy. They are pure fantasy, or maybe Michi’s wishful imagination. In them Sosuke and Michi grow giant sweet potatoes, draw pictures of each other and play music in the park. They are stories full of happiness, and nobody utters a word.
One of the most comical things is Sosuke’s singing voice. By singing he can destroy the multicoloured moulds that Michi grows. By singing he can put to sleep a tiger that has escaped from a zoo. The tiger is first lured near by Michi’s beautiful playing.
I also liked very much one image, where Michi has a fever. Suddenly the background is changed into Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.