Sawako Honna. Age forty-two. Single. Female.
Sawako Honna works for Girlfriend, a film marketing company. Her job dominates her life as she rushes to arrange and attend film premieres, is constantly having to cover for her feckless male co-worker Umeki and has to deal with demanding clients. So when one morning she wakes early to find her heart thudding nineteen to the dozen, and after yet another a stressful day, her younger female colleague Mitsuki asks her if she’s all right as she’s ‘sweating a lot’, maybe it’s… the menopause? After another frightening episode, Sawako ends up at the emergency room in the small hours where the doctor reassures her that there’s nothing wrong. But she is terrified by the realization that life is catching up with her. Tomorrow. I could die tomorrow.
Trying to come to terms with what’s happening to her, Sawako thinks about writing a will and starts to de-clutter her flat (which doesn’t go so well as she’s accumulated lots of signed merch through her job, including a light-up Tardis) and goes to see the gynaecologist. At the hospital she spots a man (from Iwada Entertainment) who spoke encouragingly to her after the last film premiere she arranged – but she decides not to approach him.
Toko Komiya is a forty-two-year-old housewife with a student daughter Yuki; her (older) husband has been sent abroad for six months for work and she’s at a loose end, so she decides to take a part-time job at a fast food restaurant. Her co-workers in the kitchen are also forty-something women but the rest of the staff are much younger (and male), causing Yuki to issue some barbed warnings. “Nobody’s looking at anyone our age, anyway” she tells Yuki; she’s been thinking back to when she was Yuki’s age. I miss… the feeling of being a flower bursting forth in its first bloom. And then, for some reason, she remembers a middle-school friend, one Sawako Honna, saying, “I wanna die when I’m fifty-five.” She was so funny. Memories of Sawako give Toko the motivation to write to her friend after so long and ask to meet up.
Meanwhile, Sawako struggles on, developing more annoying health issues. (Is it ‘frozen shoulder forties’? Or just accumulated stress?) One day she bumps into the man from Iwada Entertainment, Tomoyuki Arioka, and he asks her to a restaurant. Wondering what his motives might be, she accepts – and then is blindsided when he presents her with a list of his collection of film-related items, asking her if there are any titles she’d like to have. He then reveals that he has terminal cancer. Sawako bursts into tears. This was the last thing she’d imagined – and she apologises profusely. But Arioka seems serene and accepting about his diagnosis, although determined to pursue a personal project he’s long dreamed about: making a film.
And then Sawako – very belatedly – opens Toko’s letter. Is it too late to meet up? Is it even a good idea? And how will it go after so many years have passed?
Don’t be deceived by the pretty flower-filled pastel cover art; Sumako Kari’s depiction of Sawako’s experiencing ‘the change’ is not presented through rose-tinted spectacles. It’s also not lacking in little touches of humour (Yuki, Toko’s daughter, has a good line in parent-baiting, even though the mother-daughter relationship is believably and almost affectionately depicted). Even though Sawako and Toko’s experiences will resonate with women of a certain age (and then some!) it’s an engaging and at times thought-provoking read with a much wider appeal. Having said that, it’s so great to have a series based on the everyday lives of women who aren’t in their twenties and one that presents the characters in a realistic, relatable way. Sumako Kari has had a long career as a mangaka, creating many josei and Boys’ Love titles; some of her BL titles in English are available on futekiya, including Lying Devil and All That Pierces the Heart. Her art style is instantly recognizable and quite minimal; given her long experience, she’s able to conjure an emotion in a character’s face with just a few strokes of the pen – and she knows how to tell a story very effectively in graphic terms.
The translation for Tokyopop flows well and is by David Bove; second volume (of four) is already available in digital, with the paperback to follow in April. There’s a nicely self-deprecating Bonus page from the mangaka, showing us that she knows rather more than she’d like to about shoulder problems (I can relate!).
Even though Since I Could Die Tomorrow has a forty-something woman as its protagonist (and why not!), this manga has much to say about growing older and the meaning of life – but not in a heavy or depressing way; it’s surprisingly life-enhancing! It was the winner of the 23rd Japan Media Arts Festival Excellence Award, and nominated for the 2020 Manga Taisho Award. Whole-heartedly recommended – and not just to forty-somethings.
Our review copy was provided by the publisher Tokyopop.