Set in an apartment complex on the outskirts of Tokyo, Murasaki Yamada's Talk to My Back (1981-84) explores the fraying of Japan's suburban middle-class dreams through a woman's relationship with her two daughters as they mature and assert their independence, and with her husband, who works late and sees his wife as little more than a domestic servant.
These tales of thwarted-ness and domestic ennui were written in the 80s, but Japan being what it is, their atmosphere often feels much closer to that of the 50s or early 60s. At moments, it’s almost as if Murasaki has set out to fictionalise Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. If her stories are pensive to the point of dreaminess, they’re also full of frustration, a discontent that simmers like a hot pan. I’m so glad Drawn & Quarterly has seen fit to put them into an English edition for the first time ... a cross-cultural book about female self-worth – about where it comes from and why it sometimes disappears – that stands the test of time in the most remarkable way.
These stories could be called lighthearted, but they are not trifles. The humor is quiet, the melancholy overwhelming. Domestic abuse is alluded to, but not depicted - perhaps because for Yamada, who had fled an abusive husband to resume the manga career he had interrupted, this would have been too painful to portray at the time ... Yamada's minimalist compositions are reminiscent of the pleasantly loose line and abstract screentone shading techniques of her more popular, smuttier josei contemporaries like Okazaki Kyōko, but with a greater emphasis on negative space and small gestures ... amada’s housewife reminds us that a better future is possible, that even under the crushing weight of patriarchy, capital, everything that makes people casually inhuman to one another, a woman’s small hope just to be herself resounds and will always be beautiful - beautiful enough to love.
Decades since its introduction, the slice-of-home-life bildungsroman remains hauntingly relevant as a resonating record of wife- and motherhood ... The story is autobiographically inspired—Yamada herself survived a violent marriage, during which drawing in secret became an act of resistance. Her pioneering manga—mostly black-and-white and strikingly expressive—was some of the first to realistically confront the difficulties of womanhood, a feat for which she deserves wider, greater recognition, as Holmberg presents in his essential, definitive afterword.