ANGOULEME, FRANCE – Manga legend Reiji Matsumoto celebrated 60 years in the business at France’s international cartoon festival and confessed that the experience left him feeling like a time traveller “with the strange sensation of finding myself in one of my stories.”
The author of numerous cult works, including “Galaxy Express 999” and “Captain Albator,” the slender, white-haired 75-year-old was feted Friday at the 40th Angouleme International Comics Festiva in southwest France.
A precocious genius and huge admirer of the great manga artist Osamu Tezuka, Matsumoto debuted at the tender age of 15 with the publication of “The Adventures of a Bee.”
“Three or four years later, I saw (director Julien) Duvivier’s ‘Marianne of My Youth’ (1955). He impressed me. The film was in black and white. (And yet) today I have the impression of having seen it in 3-D and in color,” Matsumoto said in an interview.
He also recalled his astonishment during his first visit to France, and said he was especially struck by the Eiffel Tower and the city’s 19th-century buildings.
“I was amazed. I also later flew on Concorde to Rio, via Dakar, a blessed feeling for me, the son of a pilot,” said the septuagenarian, who is passionate about new technologies. “What is incredible is that I had already drawn all that in my manga before having experienced it — a sort of premonition.”
“It’s like the Fukushima (nuclear) disaster, I also had a premonition: I had drawn it in 1954 in a manga” comic, he said, referring to the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex.
Matsumoto’s imaginary nuclear catastrophe was set on Mars, contaminating the entire planet. The Martians leave for Earth but as the planet is already inhabited they return home, where they endure the effects of the radiation.
Matsumoto himself lived through the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the closing stages of World War II.
“The plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima went right over my head. The second (A-bomb) was meant for a town close to Fukuoka where I was living,” he recalled. “It was bad weather that condemned Nagasaki.
“That traumatised me but was a source of inspiration, as were all the experiences of my youth. . . . Personal experience is essential for a creative spirit. In Hollywood, I asked Americans the same age as me what they thought of Hiroshima. ‘Inhuman,’ they told me. That reassured me.”
Although the festival is holding its 40th edition and France is the biggest market for manga outside of Japan, no manga artist has ever been awarded its highest honor, the Grand Prix d’Angouleme. But Matsumoto is philosophical on the subject.
“For me, it’s a question of a difference of sensibilities on the part of the jury,” he said, adding that he would of course be delighted if that were to change.
Three of his compatriots — Jiro Taniguchi, Katsuhiro Otomo and Akira Toriyama — are competing at this year’s event. The four-day festival wraps up Sunday