Screw-Style (and the Gekiga Movement)

Story and art by Yoshiharu Tsuge

Original publisher: Garo Magazine (1968)

Length: One-shot

If anything, this article on Tsuge’s piece embodies feelings I’ve had over the last year, where I’ve spent a majority of time reading alternative manga, particularly relating to the “Gekiga” (“dramatic pictures”) movement. “Screw style” is a surrealist one-shot about a young man who is bitten by a jellyfish while at the beach. The bite pierces his artery, and he travels through a decaying post-war setting in search of assistance. He finally finds a female gynaecologist, who performs and experimental operation on him.

The passing plot points flow like a stream-of-consciousness, disjointed, though interconnected through what feels like our protagonist’s dream-like state. The complete lack of progression, and varying levels of urgency in our protagonist clouds the reader’s perception of the situation, and, if we deduce the jellyfish bite was poisonous, may suggest the protagonist shares the same hallucinogenic visuals we experience. Tsuge has said in interviews that this story came to him in a dream while napping on the roof of his apartment building, and the trance-like state our protagonist wanders in may have been an attempt to recapture said experience. 

The first page, depicting the young man at the beach, is surrounded by a reddening sky and a shadow-cast aircraft passing over him. The almost dystopian surroundings situate the story around the second world war, which finds itself a key theme in gekiga, a manga movement attempting to stress realism and create adult content in the medium that Tsuge (and his brother) were apart of. The lack of progression should frustrate the protagonist as much as it frustrates the reader, but the indifference shown may reflect a wider belief that no matter what we do, we go nowhere. Tsuge and his gekiga companions were part of the generation that felt the brunt of the second world war, not just during it, but the rapid technological and social change that came afterwards.

Their way of surviving was no longer congruent with the beliefs of modern society, and their alienation led to feelings of hopeless, indifference and a “sense of drifting”. This is embodied in similar characters they share, bizarre individualists who do not necessarily challenge societal norms, but find themselves outside of them.

This indifference that our protagonist narrates with is emphasised by the crude and sometimes frightening imagery that his world manifests as. Despite these images possessing significant meaning, there is rarely closure with these works, and Screw Style is no different. While a very personal piece, its imagery points to many issues of Japan at the time; rural poverty, industrialisation and the alienation of Japanese youth. The Vietnam war was still occurring, moon landings would soon, there were thousands of student protests all over Japan. Maybe the estrangement I felt from this piece was purposeful, recreating the alienation Tsuge felt when creating this piece, living in a new world that’s turbulent, and in a constant flux of instability.

I was completely captivated by its imagery, and its evasion of reality.

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