The manga industry, one of Japan’s proudest cultural exports, is really just a hotbed of opportunists and bootlickers, where sales figures are the only thing that counts and the readers are morons who’ll lap up any old rubbish. But don’t take it from me: That’s the feel-good message espoused by Inio Asano in his 2017 series, “Downfall.”
Sour, dour and possibly autobiographical, it’s the story of an embittered manga artist, Kaoru Fukazawa (Takumi Saitoh), whose career hits the skids after his once-popular series, “Sayonara Sunset,” limps to the end of an eight-year run. Unable to come up with anything new, Kaoru sinks into self-loathing. His editor stops returning his calls; his marriage to Nozomi (the single-named Megumi), a career-focused editor, is disintegrating.
What’s a tortured artist to do? Like many a nihilistic antihero, he seeks comfort in prostitutes. He’s particularly drawn to a willowy young sex worker named Chifuyu (the single-named Shuri), who seems like a kindred spirit. She also reminds him of a college girlfriend (Tina Tamaki) — introduced in an elegant, Haruki Murakami-esque prologue — whose astute assessment of Kaoru’s character continues to haunt him in the present. (Spoiler: He’s a bit of a jerk.)