Review of Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror, Vol. 1 by Junji Ito

Many of Junji Ito’s themes and motifs are simple and even nonsensical, but they tend to stick in the mind.

They have the ineluctable quality of nightmares, of good horror films. His concepts have the same staying power as a cheesy slasher flick, with the advantage of impressive artwork. No matter how far he takes the mutilation and monstrosities, they are rooted in true nightmares and real-life phobias. One gets the sense that the author is of a delicate sensibility and exorcises these demons in his work. Maybe horrors accumulate inside his mind and he has no choice but to draw manga for temporary relief.

Inanimate objects take on ominous contortions and morph into a dramatic diorama of blood and guts in most examples. Something as tame as clay pots are twisted into mesmerizing terror in his most representative work, Uzumaki. More so than in Tomie or Gyo, this is considered his stand-out production.

Reading it once is enough to start seeing spirals, to be infected by the madness. He points out society’s flaws indirectly, and you can usually dig beneath his nonsensical fables for subtle commentary. It was easy for me to acquire a taste for this brand of obscuring reality and blending it with nightmare. There is a gnawing madness to this and most of his other stories. Everything from marionettes to advertisements to snails to hot air balloons become objects to be questioned, or even to be abhorred. In Junji Ito nothing is as it seems. But under the horrid images, I can sense humor. The surface is only one layer. The true heart of his manga lies in a pervading irony and solid sense of grotesque joy that is easy to miss if you only consider the bones of the story.

Like in any good horror story, the characters in Uzumaki are constantly acting contrary to reason. I have heard of the unsuccessful live action film based on the manga. His ideas really only work on paper if you ask me. The exaggeration becomes silly when mishandled. That’s why I’m a fan of the manga alone, and will remain a fan, as we’re finally getting more of his titles and collections in English.

Review of No Longer Human by Junji Ito, Osamu Dazai

ISBN 1974707091 (ISBN13: 9781974707096)

Oddly, this is not the only manga adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s novel. It is the only adaptation you will need, but it is not necessarily easier to read than the original. 

It is 600 pages of interrelated scenes, and masterful, atmospheric artwork, which require just as much concentration as any piece of Japanese literature. Junji Ito tackled heavy, mature themes for this one, and departed from his usual scare tactics to introduce us to the deep storytelling and psychological strain characteristic of the important novelist.

Far denser and more consistent than Ito’s other long works (Tomie, Uzumaki, and Gyo) it resembles his adaptation of Frankenstein in some ways. It is of course dark and somber, creepy and lurid, demented and nightmarish. Only by reading thousands of pages of his work was I able to come to a decision on how I felt about Junji Ito’s method. In short, I grew to love it over time. The subject matter of No Longer Human is some of the most difficult imaginable. We are faced with the demons of the human heart over and over, through the reprehensible actions of one of the least likable main characters of all time. I’ve read other Dazai works, and from what I can tell, his themes are not always quite this pessimistic. It is about the loss of what makes us human – our compassion for others. Only by subsuming the selfish urge to constantly fulfill our unreasonable desires can we become truly human. It takes effort to look past the horrid behavior of the characters and see the underlying message.

Using the text from the translation of the novel by Donald Richie, this is a fairly faithful adaptation. And a literary one. Junji Ito appears to have taken the subject seriously and set out to craft a nuanced, complex portrait of a man, surrounded by the mostly well-meaning women, through which he discovers the appetites and weaknesses in himself, that lead to his ruin. It is a painful story at times, but human weakness, death, anger and jealousy are all profoundly important aspects of our species. Dazai posits that humans cannot define themselves except in relation to other people. Many of his views might be considered old-fashioned today, but the deep understanding of some of the fundamental aspects of humanity can still be widely appreciated. This is not a work for children, and perhaps young adults will also have to struggle to detach themselves from the surface level lust, grit and angst of the graphic novel. Being an adult offers experience, in my opinion, which at least in my case, allows me to regard a work of art as a product of a life lived and transposed. It wasn’t until I aged that I felt experience entering into art. Talent is one thing, experience is another. There is a wide range of experience here, even if the emotions verge on the animalistic.