As Halloween is quickly approaching, I thought what would be more perfect than a post on Junji Ito, the father of horror manga himself! As someone who has been collecting Junji Ito’s work for a few years now with the regular releases of the Viz Media editions I have cultivated a collection of his work which I have a particular fondness to. While I adore the whole collection of his work so far, I find myself always wanting to recommend the same stories so is a collection of my personal favourite stories which I recommend to those wanting to get into his work.
The Enigma at Amigara Fault
The Enigma at Amigara Fault follows after a huge earthquake has struck an unnamed prefecture of Japan which has left a fault in the structure of Amigara mountain. People from all across the country including two hikers named Owaki and Yoshida decide to visit the fault and see it for themselves. The main attraction to said fault is the fact that human shaped holes dot all across it. These holes call to people and begin to lure in Owaki and Yoshida. This short story is one of Ito’s stories that well and truly got under my skin and is a claustrophobic nightmare. There is nothing quite like the idea of having the physical need and urge to enter into a perfectly shaped human hole only to be lost forever. As someone who doesn’t suffer with claustrophobia this story got me sweating from the dread of being dragged into a tight space. If you want a short, sweet and to the point story from Ito at only 33 pages long then I think The Enigma of Amigara Fault is the perfect place to start if you want to know how disturbing his work can get even in the shortest amount of time.
The Long Hair in the Attic
The Long Hair in the Attic, fittingly, was actually first published in Monthly Halloween back in 1988. This short story follows a girl named Chiemi whose boyfriend breaks up with her as he isn’t satisfied in the relationship even with her trying to look her best for him. Chiemi awakes to find a dead mouse in her long hair, which she grew out especially for her boyfriend, and in an attempt to cut her hair Chiemi ends up dead. I didn’t realise how stomach-churning hair could be until I read this story. The Long Hair in the Attic made me feel incredibly sad but also grossed out with its premise and made me thankful to have short hair instead of long flowing locks. I imagine this story could easily unlock hair-based phobias for some people as I know I was on the cusp of it myself whilst I was reading.
A Deserter in the House
A Deserter in the House follows Kikuyo and her family after they help a deserter from World War 2 named Saburo Furukawa hide in their home, so he doesn’t get arrested. Eight long years after the war has ended and this family are still putting on the show that the war is still on and Saburo is a wanted man. Kikuyo’s sister Kimie ends up falling in love with Saburo and after an argument she is tragically killed during a bombing on their hometown. This event triggers a rather horrifying situation for both Saburo and the family. The main reason this story has stuck with me as a favourite is the big reveal at the end of the story which upon reading it gave me chills. It was that horrible, sinking feeling that I felt as both myself and the characters discover the truth of what has been going on this whole time. For that reason, I cannot recommend it enough.
Den of the Sleep Demon
Den of the Sleep Demon, also known as Where the Sandman Lives is another short story that did a terribly good job of creeping me out. This story follows Yuji a young man who meets with his friend Mari looking extremely tired and distraught. He tells Mari that he is in a predicament as another entity from his dreams is trying to break out from the dream world and enter reality. Mari begins helping Yuji in his maddening mission to keep this entity in his dreams. Junji Ito is an absolute king when it comes to body horror, but I feel this story in particular is one of his finest examples of body horror done in a unique way. It’s so clever, nonsensical and utterly repulsive to witness upon reading and it continues to stick with me for those reasons.
No Longer Human (An Osamu Dazai adaptation)
Junji Ito’s adaptation of No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai follows Oba Yozo who is an extremely troubled man who chooses to keep his true self away from other people as he feels like he is not human. Instead, he performs under a facade of joviality to protect himself from being caught as something inhuman. This semi-autographical tale depicts Oba as he navigates his life and tries to deal with feelings of social isolation, depression and other dark topics. This book is considered to be Osamu Dazai’s last will and testament. The novel quickly became one of my favourites as it is a story that continues to stick with me long after reading it. The content of this book haunts me, it lingers quietly in the back on my mind occasionally peaking its head to remind me of its horrible yet fascinating story. This adaptation blew my mind when I finished reading it and I sat on my bed for a good five minutes trying to piece together what I had just witnessed. I then went on to pick up the original novel and when comparing the two I discovered that Ito was able to take an already bleak piece of literature and make it even worse through his artistic portrayal of the book. Ito brings everything to life and showcases each part of the book with horrifying detail. This is an unsettling read and I would recommend approaching this one with caution.
Remina is a Lovecraftian inspired story that follows the discovery of a mysterious planet which is on a course collision towards our solar system. The scientist who made this terrifying discovery has a daughter named Remina and he makes the decision to name the planet after her. However, this decision to give the planet her name backfires as she gathers mainstream attention, and it turns into a horrifying Lovecraftian nightmare. The best way I can describe this book without giving too much away is it feels like a modern-day witch hunt and as a woman that concept frightened and disturbed me far more than the actual impending doom of the planet Remina colliding into Earth. I came away from this book feeling utterly unnerved by mankind and its ability to unsettle me so much ironically makes me want to recommend it more to people.
Tomie is easily one of Ito’s most recognised and beloved works and is usually the first piece of Ito fiction I recommend to people as I think it’s a great gateway into his work. The manga follows Tomie Kawakami, a beautiful, mysterious woman with long silky black hair and a beauty mark below her left eye. Tomie is a femme fetal who acts like a siren luring any man fall madly in love with her. Her powers send these men into wild, jealous and angry outbursts which often leads to violence and bloodshed. Tomie is killed over and over again only to come back in order to find more victims to lure in with her beauty. Despite how evil Tomie is, I do love her as a character and following her continuous cycle of bloodshed makes for a fascinating read. She’s an iconic unknown entity and her magnificent beauty combined with violence and gore imposed onto her and her victims is an incredible contrast in terms of imagery and storytelling.
Uzumaki, put simply is the story of a town cursed with spirals. While that sentence seems nonsensical, I promise it makes perfect sense once you read the manga. Originally the series was comprised into three volumes in the late 90s, but these days you can easily access it in its entirety as one large volume. Uzumaki follows Kirie Goshima and her boyfriend Suichi Saito as they witness their hometown become consumed in spirals. This manga has some of the most iconic scenes in manga and is one of his biggest titles for good reason. It’s proof that Ito can take the smallest, simplest concept and make something truly bizarre and horrifying out of it. Never in my wildest dreams could I have found spirals such a terrifying and gruesome concept until I read this manga. Uzumaki, the town cursed with spirals is something that I think every horror fan needs to experience at least once in their life because it is reading experience like no other.
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