We don’t just talk about fashion here on Tokyo Telephone, we have a broader remit that attempts to get to the heart of Japanese aesthetics and sometimes that manifests itself in art, and sometimes in manga. Personally I find it difficult as an adult to acknowledge that interest in manga beyond waxing lyrical about nostalgia inducing manga I enjoyed as a child wanting to grow up to be Kenshiro from Hokuto No Ken. Well, thankfully there are a handful of artists producing credible work that I would be happy to affiliate myself with, even if browsing for it in your average Japanese bookshop is like being bludgeoned with bishoujo bilge.
One of those artists that I have enjoyed for many years is the horror meistro himself Junji Ito and seeing as they are putting out an animated version of his fishy classic “Gyo” I thought it was the perfect time to write about the genius of the man here.
His work is obviously horror, but not in the sense that we have got used to thanks to The Ring boom in the 2000s, although Junji Ito did benefit enormously from that boom that saw anything with creepy girls in it becoming a feature film overnight. For me his work is at its best when it is either classic Japanese monster based horror or his own unique brand of psychological descent into insanity.
You can’t get away from the fact that his work is grotesque, but oddly enough it never feels exploitative. Maybe that is because there is absolutely nothing sexual about his work – even Tomie – and it does strike me as funny that idols and even members of AKB48 have played female characters for the TV and film versions of his work. Maybe it is that element that drags most of the film adaptations down, but keeps his originals well away from the “guro” category and into the realms of credibility.
I always find myself lost in his tales of invented mythology which has more than a little in-common with H.P.Lovecraft (and Junji Ito has even drawn him as one of his heroes in the past). I just find myself lost in his mysterious villages in the Japanese mountains full of ancient Cthulhu- esque cults, twisted Japanese myths and terrible secrets that never ought to be discovered…
I would argue that the most common theme in his work is that of obsession (usually with madness inducing results). From the compulsion to collect to the irresistible urge of temptation, Junji Ito understands those maddening lures and I do wonder if the man himself shares simular vices to his protagonists well on the path to destruction.
It goes without saying that he has one of the strongest aesthetic visions in the business, fluctuating between stark simplicity and gruesome details that take you a moment or two to comprehend just what is going on.
One of his best touches is his flickering composition that rarely translates to film with the massive exceptions of the stunning films Uzumaki and Nagai Yume, but both of those films basically used the manga for their storyboards.
Uzumaki (Spiral) is probably the best place to start for those new to his work. and covers most of his classic elements: Japanese cults, obsession and is also not to grim, very funny in places and makes you realise just how many spirals are all around us.
And now, a taste of his visual genius:
(from his re-telling of Frankenstein)
But I have to mention that in the past couple of years he has written a “Cat Diary” about his fiancee adopting two cats which has given him a whole new audience. He basically writes about his two cats, (one of which I would agree with him is definitely evil) and his difficulty in getting on with them. It is an unlikely premise but it is absolutely hilarious and by an odd turn of fate might well be what he is remembered for!
I hope you can trust my recommendation on this manga-ka, he really is very good. You can find more information on his work on this great fan site here and you can probably buy it in any good Japanese book shop. As for translations, there are a lot out there, both official and un-official so there can be no excuses for giving him a shot.
Don’t have nightmares…