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Manga about living with alcoholic father resonates with many in Japan

Mariko Kikuchi, author of "You to Bakemono ni Naru Chichi ga Tsurai" (My father, who becomes a monster when he's drunk, causes me pain), is pictured here in Saitama's Urawa Ward on Jan. 23, 2020. (Mainichi/Yuki Nakagawa)
A page from the manga "You to Bakemono ni Naru Chichi ga Tsurai" (My father, who becomes a monster when he's drunk, causes me pain). (C)Mariko Kikuchi (Image courtesy of Akita Publishing Co.)

SAITAMA -- An autobiographical manga that describes the collapse of a family in which the main character's father is an alcoholic has received accolades from fans in Japan, who say they can relate to her stories.

Manga artist Mariko Kikuchi, 47, who wrote "You to Bakemono ni Naru Chichi ga Tsurai" (My father, who becomes a monster when he's drunk, causes me pain), says, "I hope it provides people with a chance to review parent-child relationships. I want to break down the myth that anything is acceptable among family members no matter what one does."

The manga begins with the line: "My father in my memory is always drunk."

Kikuchi used to live with her alcoholic father, a mother obsessed with a cult, and a sister three years her junior. The head of a small company, Kikuchi's father was quiet, had many friends, and was well trusted, but when inebriated, he turned into a "monster." Every weekend he invited his neighborhood friends over to the house and became heavily intoxicated as he played mahjong. He never kept promises to go out together with his family, and could be found sleeping facedown in the bathroom. He even caused an accident driving while drunk.

When Kikuchi was in her second year of junior high school, her mother killed herself. Her father quit drinking temporarily, but started up again less than a month later. Kikuchi had watched her mother care for her drunken father since she was a young child, and believing it was "the natural thing to do," she took on the task of caring for her father in lieu of her late mother. Even after she became a manga artist, she continued to live at her parents' house with her father.

After her father died of illness in 2015 at the age of 72, Kikuchi continued to tell herself that her father was "a normal person who got drunk." "All adults who drink alcohol act like him," she thought. The same year, when she sat in on a counseling session for an alcoholic patient to do research for a manga, she was shocked to find that the same symptoms that her father had had were being discussed in terms of alcohol dependency. That was when she first thought to herself, "Maybe my dad was an alcoholic." This became the catalyst for her to create a manga about her life with her father.

When, in April 2017, the first episode of her manga about her life with her father went up on Akita Publishing Co.'s website, the server temporarily crashed because so many people were trying to access the manga at the same time. Kikuchi received many messages from readers who had alcoholic family members like her father. "My parent is just like this," one said, while another revealed, "I'd been repressing my feelings until now, but reading your manga, I realized that I'd been in pain."

Until then, Kikuchi had spoken about her father to her friends jokingly, and made him the butt of jokes in her manga. But reading messages from her readers who seemed unable to keep their pent-up pain inside anymore, she felt she could no longer continue joking about her father's alcoholism.

She says her latest manga evolved into one that also told the stories of people who could relate to her. She feels that many people's experiences are reflected in the manga.

When the manga was made into a live action film starring Honoka Matsumoto and Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kikuchi made just one request to the director. She asked that the movie not be made into one about how a family can love and forgive each other no matter what. She felt that making the film into a neat, heartwarming story would be a betrayal to all the people in pain who had sent her heartfelt messages.

Kikuchi wants to quash the myth that family members can be forgiven for anything they do just because they are family. "When the family myth is foisted upon them, children have to forgive their parents even when they do horrible things and never apologize, and this is in spite of the fact that there are a lot of children who suffer because of their parents. It's a heavy burden on them," she says. She knows, because she was one such child. She always felt that she was in the wrong, being "the crazy one who would get upset or cry," while her father was "the lighthearted, fun one." Now she's afraid of having a family of her own and is still single, living with her younger sister in the house where they grew up.

According to Kikuchi, it's when she's drawing manga, or is about to fall asleep at night, that she remembers her father. "It would be easier if I could just hate him, but I can't," she says. Now that she's learned so much about alcohol addiction, there's a lot that she'd like to suggest to him: "Don't drink to escape from unpleasant feelings, but instead, face it. Your life will change. You'll get away with not losing the important things you've lost, or are about to lose."

The film version of "You to bakemono ni naru chichi ga tsurai" ("A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad's an Alcoholic") is set to show in movie theaters across the country starting March 6.

(Japanese original by Yuki Nakagawa, Saitama Bureau)

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