Pillbox

‘Goodbye, Eri’: a perfect film about grief on paper

This past week, “Chainsaw Man” and “Fire Punch” author Tatsuki Fujimoto released a new one-shot titled “Goodbye, Eri.” Since the ending of the first part of “Chainsaw Man,” Fujimoto has published another one-shot, “Look Back.” (Both “Look Back” and “Chainsaw Man” are phenomenal reads; I would highly recommend them.) At a glance, it’s a 200-page story of a boy expressing his grief through film. At its core, it’s so much more.

The manga opens with the main character Yuta Ito’s 12th birthday and his mom asking him to record videos of her because she doesn’t have long to live. On the fifth page we can already see how Fujimoto can express emotions without the characters even speaking. The father is going to say something but cuts himself off; there are no words but so much is said in these three panels.

It’s also easy to see how much care and effort went into the art of the entire story. Many (and arguably all, but I will touch on this later) of the panels are from the perspective of a phone camera. The perspectives of some of the frames perfectly encapsulate shots from a phone, as demonstrated by the slight shake effect on some panels and the angles on others.

The first twist of the story is the main character running away from the hospital where his mother is dying, only for it to explode. We then see that we’ve been watching a movie the main character made to commemorate his mom’s request to film her until she dies. The shots of her, paired with the silent tears of Ito’s father, demonstrate the toll her death takes on the family, even if she’s smiling in most panels.

This leads us right into Fujimoto’s next strength: his dialogue writing. The responses from the audience feel so genuine — reactions that one would expect from high schoolers. Ito’s response to the crowd disliking his film is brilliant: He plans to kill himself. His line, “Are you thinking, ‘Why would you kill yourself over that?’ If that’s how you feel, you deserve to die too,” perfectly captures the feelings of a new high school student who believes his life has been ruined by his peers. The camera angles as Ito walks to the roof to jump are chilling; the hesitation shown from the repeated panels of the parking lot leaves the reader in brief suspense, until we’re surprised to see there’s someone else on the roof with Ito: enter Eri.

Eri convinces Ito to come with her to an abandoned building, which sets up the next stage of the story: Ito’s desire to produce a new movie that will “make them all bawl their eyes out” after encouragement from Eri. Despite her critics, Eri loved Ito’s film and wanted him to make another.

The next section focuses on developing the relationship between Eri and Ito. Once again, Fujimoto’s character development strength shines through. The bond between the two feels genuine, like a real-life relationship. In my experience, a lot of authors struggle to create a close bond between two characters that doesn’t feel superficial and Fujimoto manages to do it with less than 100 panels.

When Ito finally asks for his father's opinion on his films, Ito's father says Ito always manages to sprinkle a pitch of fantasy into everything. To me, this is a reflection of Fujimoto’s writing: a realistic story with just a pinch of fantasy. While his other works probably are better described as having a heap of fantasy, a pinch is the best way to describe “Goodbye, Eri.”

After Eri rejects many of his ideas, Ito finally develops the idea for his next movie: a continuation of his first film. The protagonist of his new film regrets running away from his mom’s death (Ito at the end of his first film) and he befriends a vampire who will fall in love with the protagonist. Like the protagonist’s mother, the vampire also doesn’t have long to live, so she wants the protagonist to film her last moments. This is a clear reflection of Ito’s experience with his mother, which felt oddly wholesome considering what we had seen of her in the early parts of the story.

The following panels are Eri meeting Ito’s father before shooting the next film. Suddenly, Ito’s father starts tearing into Eri, telling her to stay away from Ito, which caught me very off guard. This story has many moments like that — everything seems fine and then you’re caught off guard. We learn it’s a scene for Ito’s new movie, much to my relief.

While shooting a scene at the beach, the reader is greeted by the next tragedy: Eri, who is playing the vampire that doesn’t have long to live, doesn’t have long to live. This came as no surprise to me, but it still caught me off guard. The clear parallels between Ito's mom's story and that of the vampire made a perfect setup for Eri to have some sort of accident, meaning Ito would be forced to record the death of someone he loves.

Much like Ito’s mother requested, Eri requests that he record her until her last moments. Ito, not wanting to have to repeat the experience he had with his mother, asks her why she’d ask him to do that, and once again runs away. To me, this shows that despite all the development Ito has had since his mom died, he still can’t face the death of that love even though he was ready to kill himself about a year prior.

After this, Ito’s father confronts him and asks if he wants to see his mother’s last moments, which he had recorded. We now learn who Ito’s mom was, and it’s heartbreaking. His mom calls Ito useless because he refused to watch her die in the hospital, something no sane parent should expect of their child.

The mother that we saw at the beginning of the story was who she wanted the world to see: caring, humorous, and loving, but we now see she’s nothing short of abusive to Ito. This reveal puts everything into a new context and I love it; it’s a completely unexpected twist that explains so much. Seeing Ito’s father break down and apologize to his son for failing him and acting like everything was okay paired with the tears on his cheeks is nothing short of cathartic. It’s the perfect depiction of how people cope with losing a loved one: painting them in the best possible light, wanting the best about them to be remembered even if they weren’t a good person. Fujimoto nails this point and makes the reader feel it.

Ito’s father points out that Eri probably wants Ito to choose how she will be remembered, so Ito resolves to continue filming her until she dies. As we start to see the decline of Eri, it’s hard not to feel bad for Ito, who is forced to go through this again. Eri is painted as someone who is ready for her end and the last conversation between Ito and Eri hits hard. But in the end, Ito does deliver on his promise to Eri: he makes a movie that will make the same audience that laughed at his last movie bawl their eyes out. The page with Ito’s peace sign seems so mundane, but in context, it’s depressing. He’s delivered on his promise; the movie has fulfilled its goal, but Eri isn’t there to see it.

The ensuing conversation between Ito and Eri’s friend once again brings the story full circle. Just like how Ito had made a film that painted his mom in the best possible light, he did the same thing for Eri. Eri’s friend thanks him for doing so, which feels so bittersweet given the situation.

After this, we jump forward several years and find out Ito was never satisfied with the final cut of “Goodbye, Eri,” the name of his second film, and continues to edit it. We find out that he ended up getting married and having a child, but they, along with Ito’s father, were killed in a car crash. Though this is a very brief note, it still hit me hard. Despite everything, Ito still loses everyone he loves. Ito decides he no longer has enough soul to endure any more deaths, which once again brings everything full circle.

He travels back to the abandoned building where he watched movies with Eri to hang himself and is shocked to find the previous suicide video he recorded playing and Eri on the couch. Again, this was very unexpected but at the same time felt oh-so fitting. Eri states that films that end with a love interest’s death (like Ito’s second film) are a dime a dozen, and his film is missing a pinch of fantasy. Ito is shocked and doesn’t understand how or why Eri is there.

Eri then says she is a vampire (again, like Ito's second film) and the proof is that she is there and looks the same as when she “died.” She claims she only died mentally, but as long as her heart is still intact, she'll never die. Though she is the same person, she has no memories of her last “self,” and all she had to remember who she was, was a letter from her past self and the movie that Ito had recorded for her. Here, everything starts to click, especially why Eri asked Ito to film her until her death. To me, this interaction is the best the book has to offer: the framing of the panels, the dialogue; it’s all so raw. No matter what happens in the future, Eri will always have this film to remember Ito and who she is, and I think that’s beautiful.

The story ends with Ito leaving the building, never to see Eri again. The very last line, though, hints at the true nature of the piece. It’s Eri saying, “It’s missing a pinch of fantasy, don’t you think?” The very last panel is a double-page spread of the building going up in the flames, the result of an explosion. In my opinion, the perfect way to end the story.

But what exactly does this final line and explosion mean? The first time I read it, I didn’t quite understand, and I thought it was just a way to bring everything together. After seeing what others had to say about the story and reading it a second time, it makes a lot more sense.

The first point to address is how many films were part of the story: one, two, or three? For those who think there are two films, it’s just the two that Ito records: one of his mother and one of Eri. A pretty straightforward answer, but I think the ending hints at something more. For those saying there are three films, they think the section following Eri’s death is yet another film: the epilogue of Ito’s story. This would explain the explosion at the end and Eri’s presence. She’s not a vampire, but just an actor in the film and Ito is still young.

I think this is a better answer than saying there are two films, but I believe the entire story is just one giant film. I read the story as though they are all actors in the same film, and the ending makes perfect sense to me this way. The pinch of fantasy follows throughout the entire story with Eri being a vampire and the explosion being at the very end. At times, it’s difficult to differentiate between reality and fiction, which feeds into the idea that the entirety of the story is just one long, beautiful film.

This is what I mean when I said that the phrase “pinch of fantasy” feeds so well into Fujimoto’s writing. There are so many layers to Fujimoto’s writing and it makes for such an engaging experience; it’s up to the reader to determine the meaning of the ending. This entire work was nothing short of art and has made me look forward to Fuijimoto’s future works.