Japanese horror stories are different from all horror stories – especially when it comes to the absolutely terrible work of Junji Ito.
When it comes to horror comics, creators can take many approaches. Some attack on a purely psychological level and scare the reader with disturbing thoughts and ideas. Others strive for shock and produce terrifying images and disruptive scenarios that the reader will remember long after the story ends. And then there’s the work of Junji Itois considered the master of horror comics in the world of Japanese manga.
Ito’s work is difficult to classify – the disturbing images he depicts of body horror and torture are clearly designed to disturb and horrify. However, it is also the frightening effects of the worlds that he creates – where people fall victim to their own obsessions, fears and disgust – that really make him a master of the horror genre. While it’s difficult to highlight the scariest stories in his collection, two of his most popular works are – Uzumaki and Gyo – give an insight into Junji Ito’s unique and frightening approach to horror comics. Be warned – the work is not easy to endure.
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Uzumaki is Junji Ito’s three-volume series about a city with bizarre obsession and phobia. Originally published as a series in the weekly Manga magazine Great comic book ghosts, The manga series examines how an apparently innocent interest in spirals can drive you crazy. It’s a strange premise, but one that shows that practically any idea can be turned into grotesque horror.
When high school teen Kirie Goshima learns that her boyfriend’s father loves to watch spirals – to the point where he skips work just to stare at the patterns in spiral bowls and toys – she finds it Old man’s hobby amusing. But interest turns into a sick obsession when the man begins to mutilate his eyes just to see spirals all the time, and finally commits suicide in a horrific manner by literally twisting his body into a spiral.
Obsession soon infects the whole city, while others become obsessed with spirals or paranoid – to the point where they cut their fingers and shave their heads so as not to be confronted with spirals. Soon the seemingly psychological curse has a supernatural cause that further distorts the city mentally and physically. Of all the works by Junji Ito Uzumaki can be one of the most difficult to digest for several reasons.
A two-volume series, Gyo may be Junji Ito best (or worst) examples of the Manga author’s expertise in body horror. The story of Tadashi and his girlfriend Kaori, Gyo begins on the island of Okinawa, where the two teenagers encounter a strange, rotting fish with legs that slips ashore. Even though the fish appears to be dead, it can still move and emits a disgusting “death stink”.
Tadashi’s uncle, a scientist, gets involved and soon concludes that the fish could be associated with an old government experiment involving biological warfare (by genetically modifying animals to produce excess gas and making an enemy with their stench) to attack) and the work of his own father, in which mechanical legs were made fueled by the gas of the rotting corpses of the animals. Soon the walking fish begin to infect humans and cause plague. Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, what’s next is particularly terrible as the infected swell up to bloated, gas-filled creatures that cling to their mechanical legs and scurry through the city. It’s a disgusting, annoying body-horror mess – but also one that’s hard to look away from to testify Junji Ito Skill as a horror manga creator.
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