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Gallery Fake, vol. 1, by Fujihiko Hosono (2017, My First Big Special), Grade: B+
Hosono started as an animator on the Crusher Joe series in 1975, and he was the uniform designer for The Dirty Pair. He started Gallery Fake in 1992 in Big Comic Spirits, and it ran until 2005. It's currently being reprinted as a "wide volume" under the My First Big Comic brand, which is only available from convenience stores. 370 yen for about 240 pages, with 9 chapters total.
(Sayoko realizes that Fujita bested her with the third panel of "Two Venetian Ladies".)
The main character is Reiji Fujita. He originally worked as a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and he still presents this image as a curator to the outside world. But, he also runs Gallery Fake, a shop that specializes in black market collector's masterpieces. He's not your typical antihero. He lives in a rundown apartment building to save on rent money, and his favorite pastime is sitting in pachinko parlors, smoking cigarettes, and using his winnings to buy cans of crab meat and cup noodles for his dinners. Ignoring the fact that he has enough free cash to buy $10 million paintings at the drop of a hat. His main rival is Sayoko Mitamura, the curator of the Takada Art Museum, who views him as a threat to the art world. And, his assistant is Sara Halifa, a young woman with little understanding of art.
(The Portrait of Susanna Lunden(?) is restored.)
In the first 9 chapters, we're introduced to Fujita as a black marketer who knows more about classic paintings that anyone else, and is a skilled painter in his own right, capable of doing full restoration of a painting in a few hours. Which can occasionally be a problem because he sometimes gets kidnapped for a job, or threatened with death for selling people fakes.
Art 1: Half and Half
Sayoko is visiting an Italian art specialist that wants to show her Two Venetian Ladies, by Vittore Carpaccio. It's supposed to be paired with Hunting on the Lagoon, but Fujita shows up with the supposedly missing third matching panel, (which according to the wiki article is still missing).
Art 2: Linseed no Itazura (Linseed Trick)
Sara is kidnapped by the son of one of Fujita's former customers. Fujita had sold the guy Ruben's Portrait of Susanna Lunden(?), but that painting is now almost all black. The customer died and his son blames Fujita for selling him a fake, and he is ransoming Sara for the full amount. However, the problem is that it really is the original Rubens, but it had been exposed to full sunlight and the linseed oil used in the paint had changed color. Can Fujita raise all the money before the 24 hour deadline is up?
Art 3: Ta-ban no Onna (Turban Woman)
A porno photographer is trying to get Sara to pose for him. The guy is smitten with Vermeer's A Girl with a Pearl Earring and wants Sara to help him recreate the pose as a photo. Fujita gets her to agree as long as the photographer can pass a test. The test: Sayoko's gallery is currently running an exhibit that includes one fake in with the originals. The photographer is to identify the fake. Actually, he picks two paintings, and Sayoko claims he's lost the gamble, except that Fujita steps in and puts the extra fake on a table next to a known original so that Sayoko can look at how the light bounces off the paint at a sharp angle - yes, the photographer was right; Sayoko's gallery had mistakenly purchased a fake; and, Sara poses for a portrait as "The Turban Woman" (i.e. - "Girl with a Pearl Earring").
(Fujita realizes that the hospital is displaying the wrong paintings, but the director kicks him out as a "know-nothing".)
Art 4: Wagatani wa Haiiro nakiri (My Valley is the Color of Ash)
Fujita is kidnapped by a group of hardcore criminals that want to raid an abandoned hotel on the volcanic island of Aizendake (not the real name). There used to be a village near the top of the mountain, and a hotel that featured priceless original masterpieces, but everything was wiped out by the volcano a few years ago, and the government sealed off the area. The gang leader wants to get to the hotel and see if there's anything they can loot, and he needs Fujita as his specialist. However, when they get there, there's only one piece that wasn't destroyed by the elements - Jean-Francois Millet's Going to Work. As they come back down the hill with it, the gang suffers in-fighting, due mainly to the fact that one of the members came from that village, and he wants to use the sales money to help get his parents out of poverty again. Everyone kills each other off, and before dying the ex-villager gives Fujita a bank account number to deposit the sales of the painting into, minus whatever brokerage fee he wants to charge, which he does.
Art 5: Futatsu no Souzoku (The Two Inheritances)
Fujita is a pachinko partner with one of the old men living in the same apartment building. One day, the two of them learn that their landlord has died, and the son wants to evict them and sell the property. The previous landlord was a collector, and the son wants to sell off all the art, without the knowledge of the rest of the family. The grandmother's main pastime is sitting and staring at Edgar Degas' The Two Ballerinas, which would also be sold off. Fujita exposes the guy's scheme, and prevents the Degas from reaching the auction block by making it look like a fake. But, the older pachinko partner dies of a heart attack, and bequeaths his "treasure" to Fujita - a box of extra pachinko balls.
Art 6: Hachi Tenshou (Eight Bells)
Fujita and Sara are invited to the massive yacht of company president Minofuski. Minofuski used to be friends with Sara's parents, so she spends most of her time touring the yacht with him. Turns out Minofuski is a big fan of Homer Winslow, having named his yatch the "Winslow". Eventually, he loses control of his company to an aggressive young executive, and he feels like how Winslow felt when painting Eight Bells. Originally, Fujita had turned down his request for working for him, but now he relents.
(Fujita decides to sell "Icon" to the founder of "Multisoft.")
Art 7: Shikisai Iin (Doctor's Office Color)
One of the old woman living at Fujita's apartment building suffers a collapse and is moved to her son's hospital. The son is the director there, and is experimenting with a new design approach that makes the building look like a 5-star hotel. But, his mother refuses to stay in her room and demands to be released immediately. Fujita concurs with her and the director kicks him out of the building. A few days later, though, the woman is still stressed, and the guy begs for help. Fujita relents, saying that the problem is bad color therapy choices. Everything about the rooms suggest "death and pain" to the older patients' minds, so more peaceful colors and paintings need to be selected. Sara is disgusted that Fujita managed to snag a consultation fee for recommending the new paintings for the hospital. (No featured artwork this time.)
Art 8: Ame Yadori (Shelter from the Rain)
Fujita is coming home from his studio one night when the rain suddenly comes pouring down, so he ducks into a bar. The owner is a pipe smoker with a love of Irish things. On the wall is a bad reproduction of one of Van Gogh's paintings, Van Gogh's Chair. The only other customer is an angry, bitter woman. The two men talk about Van Gogh and Ireland, until the woman snaps at them. Seems that the Van Gogh copy was painted by the father of "a friend of hers". The "friend" had given her father a pipe as a birthday present, but he'd gotten sick and had to give up smoking soon after, and eventually the two had drifted apart and the father had died before the "friend" could make up with him. (It's pretty obvious pretty quickly that the woman is talking about herself.) Fujita offers to restore the painting for free as the woman talks, since he has his tools with him. When he's done, he points to the pipe in the painting to show that the mouthpiece is chipped and cracked, indicating that the father had used it as reference material, and had clamped it between his teeth while making the copy, so, yeah, he still loved his daughter. The woman breaks down and cries. Meanwhile, there's a strange man sitting in a car outside, reading a newspaper about a bank robbery and how the police are searching for the one remaining robber, who has a big scar in the palm of his hand. Fujita comments that one reason the bartender likes smoking pipes is that it gives him an excuse to keep people from seeing the palm side of his hand. Finally, Fujita and the woman leave, and the rain has stopped. He asks if she wants to go to another bar, as the strange man and his assistant run into the bar to arrest the bartender.
Art 9: Tengoku no Mado (Window to Heaven)
Baker, the CEO and Founder of "Multisoft company" is desperate to find a painting that will sooth his ailing mother's heart, and failing. He decides to track down Fujita, but the art dealer refuses to help him. Baker flies to Japan to talk to Fujita directly, and is challenged to a pachinko match, which he never had a chance of winning. Fujita asks him if he is a religious man, and Baker says, "No, no way." Fujita replies that he can't sell a painting to someone that doesn't believe in heaven. A few days later, though, Fujita is standing outside the Baker estate, with a painting that looks like it was drawn by a child. Baker is about to explode at him, but his mother sees the painting and crosses herself before relaxing with a sigh. Fujita had assumed that the name "Baker" meant that the old woman was a Russian immigrant and a devote Orthodox Russian Catholic. He refers to the painting as an "icon," but there's no artist associated with it. (The first painting Mrs. Baker rejected was Pierre Bonnard's Window. Any guesses as to what the joke is?)
Summary: The artwork isn't that bad, but if you have Hosono's drawings side by side with the original masterpieces, it's often hard to tell that they're supposed to be the same things. It would be easy to say that Hosono is a bad copy artist, but his stories are interesting, and they're a decent introduction to the world of art dealers and museum curators. Recommended if you like art history.