While Tatsumi does not credit Shimada, neither did he do little to cover his tracks. He barely even changed the title. The illustrations for the original King version of 1950 are by Naruse Kazutomi, a leading postwar illustrator working in a prewar bishōnen style. He illustrated many stories for both adult and youth magazines in the 1950s, including Shimada’s “Underworld Devil” (“Chitei no daimajin”) for Shōnen Shōjo Tankai in 1950. Naruse’s veil-like washes, and the long eyelashes and posture of his male figures add a mood of almost homoerotic sensuality that, while perhaps extractible from Shimada’s original, could not be more foreign to Tatsumi’s adaptation. Much closer are Doi Sakae’s images for The Jewel three years later. Of Doi’s four drawings, Tatsumi seems to have taken at least something from three: the scene of the convicts escaping from the wreck (used for the cover of the D&Q edition), their trudging up the mountainside, and potentially also the ribbed metal sterilizer in the hospital room. Furthermore, Doi’s frenzied line and scattered brushwork evokes Tatsumi’s rough and open drawing, typically regarded one of the distinctive features of Black Blizzard. In an interview from 2009, Tatsumi said that he chose to set the story in the raging snow simply to make the drawing quicker and easier, but one wonders if there was not also some stylistic influence from Doi. The beginnings of gekiga are typically understood as an adaptation of the cinematic paneling of Tezuka to the psychological themes of contemporary mystery and thriller movies, but it seems possible that the mood and ink work of magazine illustration also played some part.
These visual influences are nothing compared to those of the story. The similarities are too many to list outright, so instead I have provided a synopsis of “Black Rainbow” with comments on the notable differences. Shimada begins with a train wreck and the main protagonist, the pianist Takiguchi Ryōji, thrown violently from his seat. He comes to with rain beating on his face and the man to whom he is handcuffed, Kurokawa Shinpei (same given name as in Black Blizzard, though written with different kanji characters), pulling on his arm and ordering him to get up. An anguished cry comes from beneath the wreck: it’s the detective assigned to deliver them to central headquarters. Kurokawa picks up a metal bar and raises it to smash the detective’s head, but Takiguchi stops him. Then they flee, running past crash victims writhing in pain, then into the mountains, struggling up the slope in the downpour, before finding refuge in a woodsman’s shack where they decide to rest and collect their thoughts. After trying and failing to break the handcuff’s chain with a rock, Kurokawa comes to the horrifying conclusion that one of them is going to have cut off his hand. Takiguchi pleads no no, not me, I am a pianist, I need my hands, to which Kurokawa responds that so does he, since he makes a living on dice and cards. At this point, Takiguchi tells Kurokawa his sad confused story of how he found himself a criminal. It is also at this point that Tatsumi’s adaptation departs most from Shimada – which until then differs importantly only in how it starts (the pianist’s arrest versus the train wreck), the characters’ names (Yamaji Susumu and Konta Shinpei in Tatsumi), and the weather.
Takiguchi’s sad tale goes back to before the war, when he was bandleader of The Strange Mask Company (Kimenza), a traveling theatrical troupe specializing in acrobatics with musical accompaniment, something smaller scale than Tatsumi’s “Lion Circus.” The main attraction was the troupe leader’s daughter, Tamayo. She has a beautiful face, a beautiful body, and a beautiful voice. Even scouts from film studios had begun making inquiries, but Tamayo and Takiguchi had made a pact to break off on their own and form a band, presumably a jazz band. Then the war happened. Takiguchi got shipped off, leaving their plans in the lurch. He survived the fighting, but as a Russian prisoner in Siberia damaged his hands and lost the ability to play piano. Kurokawa’s life has also ruined been by the war. Back in the 1930s, ashamed at her husband’s poor military reputation, his wife had run off with their daughter – thus planting the seed for his life of crime. This very much “postwar” underpinning to the characters’ tragedy is entirely missing in Black Blizzard, such that individual desire and broken dreams become a general matter of egos and the hard facts of life, rather than how that damned war destroyed everything. After repatriation, Takiguchi finally tracks down the troupe, only to find that Tamayo has decided to try for the movies. Takiguchi is heartbroken and, with Tamayo’s brother, drinks himself into a stupor. Both end the night in hotel rooms with prostitutes. Takiguchi wakes up in the morning next to a dead body, not knowing who she was or where he was. He flees the hotel, but is caught by the police shortly after, not in his atelier as in Black Blizzard, but strategizing escape with Tamayo’s brother.
After this, Shimada’s story continues along lines familiar from Black Blizzard. The men backtrack to the site of wreck and then into a nearby town. There’s no cat and mouse with the police like there is in the manga. They find a hospital. It’s empty because the doctors and nurses are all out at the site of the wreck. They sneak into the building and enter one of the examination rooms, filled with various drugs and medicines. In the army, Kurokawa gained some experience with medicine, so proposes a wager. He’ll fill two glasses with water and, with Takiguchi’s back turned, put a colorless, odorless anaesthetic in one. Then with Kurokawa’s back turned, Takiguchi will shuffle the glasses. Then Kurokawa will choose a glass and they will both drink together. The deal is: whoever gets the one with the drug will be knocked out and won’t feel a thing as the other person saws off his hand with a medical blade. A few mintues later, Takiguchi’s head begins to spin. His world turns black and he cries out in horror. Tatsumi’s short passage of the pianist’s nightmare, where he finds a hook for a hand, is not in Shimada’s original. Both visually and narratively, there is a far greater emphasis in Black Blizzard on the artist’s productive capabilities and anxieties regarding their loss. As you know from Tatsumi’s circa 1970 work, this is a theme that obsessed the artist for decades.
When Takiguchi wakes up in a hospital bed the next day he finds his body completely intact. The detective tells him what happened: Kurokawa drugged both cups but had stuffed his mouth with cotton batting to absorb the liquid. After Takiguchi passed out, he then sawed off his own hand. He had a visit he had to pay. Of course, it turns out that Tamayo is his daughter, and the troupe leader the man his wife had remarried. Kurokawa knew something was fishy when Takiguchi told him the name of the troupe and its leader. He tracked down the troupe, threw his severed hand down before Tamayo’s brother, and demanded he tell the truth. Apparently, the murder was an accident. While Takiguchi slept, the two prostitutes began to fight in his room. There was some bad blood between them regarding costumers. The other woman began strangling Takiguchi’s partner, accidentally killing her. Tamayo’s brother knew what had happened, but decided to have Takiguchi take the blame. See, Tamayo loved Takiguchi, which was the only thing keeping her from becoming a movie star. With the prostitute’s death, the brother saw a chance to eliminate Takiguchi from the picture. The story ends with Tamayo, who has now let go of her celebrity dreams, on her way to the hospital to talk things through with her true love, the dazed and confused, but now redeemed pianist.
Clearly, we are dealing with much more than mere influence. The only essential differences are the crime scene, Tatsumi’s decision to open the story in the pianist’s atelier, the heavier emphasis on the pianist’s hands, and the dropping of Shimada’s post-colonial register. The fidelity is otherwise total. This use of Black Rainnbow essentially as a script presages things to come. Toward the end of A Drifting Life, Tatsumi is shown visited by a friend who has come to Tokyo to become a screenwriter. It is the summer of 1959 and the Gekiga Studio has begun to come apart. The friend has with him a bag full of copies of Scenario, a monthly magazine that is just what its title suggests it is. Tatsumi soon finds himself obsessed with the magazine. “Within its pages was a world of film Hiroshi had previously known nothing about.” In an interview with the Kashihon Manga History Research Association in 2001, Tatsumi likewise comments that no magazine influenced him more than Scenario, teaching him how to trim verbiage and emphasize purely visual storytelling. He also says he “picked out” (nukidasu) various scripts from the magazine, and one wonders if this means that he also adapted them. I will have do some research to know for sure, but clearly he had already begun this sort of practice at the time of Black Blizzard, using a dialogue-heavy prose story in the same manner as one would a film script. It would seem that Black Blizzard was a pathbreaker for Tatsumi in yet another way.