Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes
We take our title from the final words spoken by the productive artist, Osamu Tezuka. As I skimmed his biography written by Helen McCarthy, I came across those haunting words as McCarthy discussed Tezuka’s passing in 1989 from stomach cancer. Frankly, I wonder what Tezuka felt he had left undone. Yes, Tezuka indeed had unfinished manga and animation projects, but his oeuvre includes “170,000 pages of comic art in around 700 different titles, from single-frame comics to epic series. He and his studios worked on more than seventy animated titles, from experimental films to TV series” (McCarthy 248).
In addition, Tezuka was a writer, illustrator, and designer. Having seen Mighty Atom (Astro Boy—US), Stanley Kubrick wrote a letter to Tezuka in 1965 asking him to be the art director of 2001: A Space Oddysey (1960s). Tezuka felt his schedule would be unaccommodating and turned down Kubrick’s offer (Artists). Even so, the global community acknowledged Tezuka’s work during his lifetime. He had accolades plenty. Though Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, etc.) has usurped Tezuka’s title of “Japan’s Walt Disney,” biographer Helen McCarthy notes that Tezuka was far more. She suggests that Tezuka was more like “Walt Disney, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Tim Burton, Arthur C. Clarke, and Carl Sagan all rolled into one incredibly prolific creator” (McCarthy 8).
Was Tezuka merely a tortured artist? The artist often receives low pay and endures long hours, inviting illness and depressed mental states. This lifestyle seems especially true of mangaka and animators of Japan. As an aside, I note how many manga series I have read that went on sudden hiatus due to the mangaka’s health for these reasons. From a Western perspective, the Japanese are workaholics. In the United States, the artists would likely have unionized and gone on strike. Yet, Tezuka longed to keep drawing, even when it wasn’t lucrative or detrimental to his physical health. Since Tezuka has a son now working in the billion-dollar anime industry, it is doubtful Tezuka thought his work was his sole legacy. Yet, something drove Tezuka to keep churning out work. And in so doing, Tezuka not only shaped the “psychology of Japan’s postwar youth” (About Tezuka Osamu) but likewise “laid the foundations for the 21st-century image of a ‘cool Japan’” (McCarthy 12).
Perhaps it was about identity? Maybe Tezuka could only see himself as an artist. I know many men who do not know what to do with downtime or retirement. These men define themselves by their occupation. This propensity is not necessarily a bad thing. However, such thinking can lead to discontentment and disappointment. If someone or something suddenly took your job from you, what would you do? Can you enjoy the life you have built for yourself through your industry? I realize I am asking deep philosophical questions that have nothing to do with devotional literature on their surface. Yet, these thoughts are pertinent to Christianity. Christianity is vocation number one (Ephesians 4.1). Thus, Christianity should be our identity. The things we do so we may eat (2 Thessalonians 3.10) are of secondary import. As long as one is faithful, it matters not if he is the captain of industry or shovels manure. We might add that our hobbies must likewise take a backseat to our Christian walk (Matthew 6.33).
Yet, despite knowing, as Solomon concluded, that one’s duty is to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12.13), we still have difficulty making an application. Even David and Asaph wrote psalms of an existential nature (Psalm 8 and 73). Perhaps this struggle results from the torture our fleshly bodies meet out upon our spirits (cf. Romans 7.14-8.1). Indeed, we wish to be rid of the flesh and clothe ourselves with our heavenly habitation (2 Corinthians 5.1ff). Hence, Paul understood what gain he had in death but acknowledged he had work to do while he remained (Philippians 1.21-22). Even so, I don’t know if Paul would have sounded like Tezuka, begging to do more work than he had already done when on Nero’s chopping block. All I know is that I hope to have a more cheerful tone when on my deathbed than Tezuka. I want to sound more confident like Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4.7 NASB1995). The only way any of us can accomplish that, of course, is to ensure that we are about our Father’s business today.
The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, by Helen McCarthy, Ilex, 2013, p. 248.
“1960s.” Tezuka Osamu World, Tezuka Productions, web.archive.org/web/20080924175809/en.tezuka.co.jp/osamu/annals/1960.html.
“Artists.” Modern Japan – Artists – Tezuka Osamu, Japan-Zone.com, www.japan-zone.com/modern/tezuka_osamu.shtml.
The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, by Helen McCarthy, Ilex, 2013, p. 8.
“About Tezuka Osamu｜Tezuka Osamu Official.” TezukaOsamu.net(EN), tezukaosamu.net/en/about/.
The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, by Helen McCarthy, Ilex, 2013, p. 12.