Thursday, November 19, 2009

Katsudi Matsumoto Collection

Katsuji Matsumoto (or, "Katsudi", as it is spelled on the website) (1904-1986) was a very prolific illustrator and artist from the 1930's to the 1950's, creating filler drawings for shojo magazines early on, then illustrating Japanese versions of western fairy tales, developing his own 4-koma manga, drawing children's books and creating characters for Combi company's line of infant products.

(Image from the Katsudi gallery book, used for review purposes only.)

The wiki entry is very detailed and has a lot of the info that I do, so I won't bother duplicating it here. Katsudi's house was located in Setagaya ward, a few miles from the current location of Machiko Hasagawa's ("Sazae-san") art gallery. He was visited by Machiko a few times, but his main influence on shojo artists was in having 3 assistants, including Toshiko Ueda ("Fuichin-san") and Setsuko Tamura, who went on to become well-known manga artists in their own right. I've written about "Fuichin-san" before, which had been animated by Studio Ekura Animal a few years ago.

(Image from the Katsudi gallery book, used for review purposes only.)

After his death, Katsudi's artwork was on display at a gallery space run by one of his sons, but when that son passed away, the artwork was put into storage. Later, the family started receiving questions as to when the art would be put on display again. Currently, some of his drawings and supporting materials can be viewed at the display space run by two of his other children. All of his children have gone on to be successful artists, living in either the U.S. or Japan.

(Cover of the "Matusmoto Katsudi World" gallery book.)

The present gallery is in a connecting room between two main houses. The front house is a gallery and display area for jewelry created by one of his daughters and the back house is used as a design space for sculptures by the eldest son. If you go, knock on the front door to let them know you're there, then go around to the back to enter the gallery space. They're only open on Tuesdays and Saturdays. And, you'll be expected to take your shoes off and leave them outside when you enter. One of the family can speak English fluently, so it's possible that they may be available when you arrive, and they're very willing to tell stories about their father's experiences.

(4-panel strip - "yon-komi", from the gallery book.)

The gallery itself is small, maybe 10'x20', with most of the artwork sealed up in boxes on the shelves. There are a few paintings, pencil drawings and sketches out for display, plus examples of the children's books, shojo manga, and infant products that Katsudi drew for. There's also a selection of cards and trinkets available for sale, along with copies of the gallery book. The book is 2000 yen (about $22 USD at the current exchange rate) and is definitely worth the price. There's a wealth of information on early Shojo magazines, plus a wide range of pictures showing Katsudi's skills as an artist in a variety of genres.

(Children's book cover, from the Katsudi gallery book, used for review purposes only.)

In a way, Katsudi's style has a retro feel to it. Granted, he was active from the 1920's to the '60s, with a forced break in between when the Japanese military government cracked down on anything artistic, and his works were influenced by the tastes of the times. There's an inherently "Japanese" feel to the pictures, with the big eyes, reduced noses and short-cropped hair styles, while the clothing is distinctly western. Yet, there's also a whimsical element to the expressions, poses and settings that appealed to the young female readers of the shojo magazines back then.

(Katsudi Matsumoto. Image from the Katsudi gallery book, used for review purposes only.)

Katsudi was also ahead of his time in the way his artwork expressed energy and movement across the page. One of the children's book illustrations on display at the gallery that isn't in the souvenir book shows a parade of people and animals winding through the streets, looking very dynamic and fluid. This was 13 years before Tezuka would create a sensation with his own similar style in "Shin Takara-jima" in 1947. The primary difference is that Katsudi was illustrating someone else's novel, while Tezuka was working solely within his own manga and throwing in more cinematic elements over time. And in fact, there's a good chance that Tezuka had grown up with Katsudi's illustrations as a child. The wikipedia article on Tezuka claims that he'd created the "large eye" style for manga, but Katsudi had been drawing Japanese girls with larger, western-style eyes well before Tezuka showed up. It's just that Tezuka exaggerated the eye sizes even more to bring them into line with what Disney was doing. It's my feeling that Tezuka owes a debt to Katsudi's works.

(Inside the gallery.)

(Inside the gallery.)

Most western fans are probably unfamiliar with Katsudi's name and works, but if you are interested in the history of shojo manga, you've probably seen his paintings in early Shojo no Sekai, Shojo and Shojo no Tomo magazines. It's time for someone to put together a retrospective of his work for a western art museum. Maybe starting off in Copenhagen, since Katsudi felt a great debt to Hans Christian Andersen (a lot of the early work Katsudi received was for illustrating the Japanese translations of Andersen's stories).

To get to the gallery, take the Tokyu Den-en-toshi line out of Shibuya to Futago Tamagawa. Exit the station and walk north under the expressway bridges. You'll pick up a little shop-lined street running east-west just past the expressway bridge. Take this street 5-6 blocks to a small river. There should be a streetlight here. Turn left just before the river, and turn left again at the next intersection. The gallery will be on the right, a little more than halfway down the block. Knock on the front door of the house with the artwork in the window, then go around to the driveway on the left and look for the door right behind that house. It may be about a 10-15 minute walk. (I went there on my bike and it only took me a few minutes from the station.) Open Tuesdays and Saturdays, from 11 AM. Check the website for details. There may be a 500 yen entrance fee, but I wasn't charged anything when I went.

(The actual entrance to the gallery, with Ki, sculptor and Katsudi's eldest son.)

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