The Unnerving Works of Junji Ito by Phil Tilecky and Julio Manzano

February 2, 2020 Articles, Reviews

“I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain”.
— H.P. Lovecraft

Back in my adolescent days, my older brother handed me two books to lessen the boredom of an in-school suspension. Coated in black with red lettering, read the title: Uzumaki. The first two volumes that would later lure me into a twisted obsession with the works of a new master of horror – Junji Ito.

By this time, I had already been an avid reader of Manga – but this was different. The insane detail given to each panel, presented this overwhelming taste of dread; ghastly images of body manipulations and intense pareidolia. But given the title: Uzumaki (Japanese for spiral), one can only imagine the Lovecraftian horrors that is bestowed upon the fictional town of Kurôzu-cho. The story follows Kirie, a high school girl caught in the center of a deadly mystery that plagues her home with the unsettling haunting image of the spiral.

Perhaps by text, the image itself doesn’t enlist fear as one would hope. But that’s the genius of Junji Ito and his books. He presents an askew perspective that strikes fear from that that is unknown and unquestioned. All his works share these themes of obsession, curiosity, insanity and cosmicism. Like H.P. Lovecraft, Ito’s stories never seem to have a clear depiction of good or evil. In its place, the tragic events that occur within his works often occur due to an obsession with the unknown. Curiosity – mankind’s greatest motivation for achievement and ultimately its downfall.
It’s what makes Ito’s work alluring and relatable. A calming and eerie reminder that no matter how informed, composed or aware we are. In this world, there will always be something out there that our minds will never comprehend – no matter how hard we try.

Born on July 31, 1963 in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture, Junji Ito was inspired to draw at a young age. Influenced by his own sister and the works of Kazue Umezz (The Drifting Classroom). Ito has also cited the writings and art of Hideshi Hino, Shinichi Koga, Yasutaka Tsutsui and H.P. Lovecraft as major influences. However, Ito hadn’t begun creating manga until his late 20’s, he’d write and draw as a hobby, while working as a dental technician. In 1987, Ito’s talents in the medium were finally recognized when a short story he’d submitted to Gekkan (a Halloween magazine), received an honorable mention by Umezz himself. This short story would eventually be serialized, and would become the book we know today as Tomie. The story of an irresistible girl that charms men into madness, only to be murdered then resurrected, just to do it all over again.

The crave is very much real. For those that desire more of Ito’s gruesome work can be found in such titles as: Gyo, Frankenstein (an adaptation of the original Mary Shelley novel and winner of 2019’s Eisner Award for best adaption.) Fragments of Horror, Shiver, and Smashed (compilations of various of Ito’s Short stories.) Yon & Mu, a dark comedy about the pain that is… living with cats. And now, with his newly released masterpiece, No Longer Human (an adaptation of the novel of the same name, by Osamu Dazai.) A book that I am currently nose deep in, so with that being said; I bring this to a close.