Monday, September 2, 2013

REVIEW: Museum Of Terror Vol. 3 by Junji Ito


JAPANESE manga is not my cup of tea. Honest, I would rather shove a ferret down my trousers than read it. Even manga about pro wrestling is usually hard to take in large doses just 'cos I overdose on all those big, prepubescent eyes and badly translated Japlish. And soppy romantic shit. Aaaaaaargh!

But standing out from the pack is Junji Ito.

Junji Ito is different. Junji Ito does manga that jolts the senses. Junji Ito terrifies me.

I first got into Ito through his best-known work Umuzaki via the flawed but visually surreal film adaptation (also known as Spiral - go track it down). Years after seeing the film, I bought all three graphic novels, freshly translated into English and rereleased in the West by Dark Horse. Without understating things, I was floored by what I read - it blew away the movie with its perverse horror and nightmarish imagery.

So when I spotted Museum Of Terror (Dark Horse, 2006) in Elizabeths for only $12, I had to have it - and I'm so glad I did (while at the same time regretting what's been seared into my eyeballs). The first two volumes feature an ongoing character called "Tomie", but volume three is a collection of random yarns he created from 1987-90 for various Japanese horror manga.

Ito is a writer of the highest order and his creepy artwork perfectly complements it. Like the best European horror, Ito's work unsettles because everything is unexpected. Nothing is "as it should be", like we expect in a Hollywood movie. Gore comes suddenly from the least expected places (in "Bio-House", for example, a dinner held by an employer for his secretary soon degenerates into blood-letting and vampirism) and terror is located in the most mundane objects: a jilted lover's tresses in "The Long Hair In The Attic" or a videotape in "Love As Scripted".
Family and friends can't be trusted: a strict father murders his children one by one when they rebel against his authoritarian will in "Heart Of A Father", while three siblings torment a WW2 deserter and childhood friend by keeping him in a storehouse for years and pretending that the war hasn't ended. Of course, the joke's on them: he's been dead for ages and the person they've been teasing is actually his ghost.
And that's the kinda twists Ito throws in: some jolting, some low-key...as if the story's half-finished. "The Village Of Sirens" ends with our young hero helpless as demons fly off to destroy the world, while "Unbearable Maze" sees three young girls trapped in an underground maze filled with the living corpses of mummified monks, and ends quietly as the wide-eyed monks stare at the girls, thinking they're terrible figments of their dying hallucinations.

Not all the stories work. Some get quite silly, even. But Ito never wavers from his unique vision of fear and terror. It's his determination to find horror in the most everyday situations that makes his work so compelling.

Of all the pieces in this book, the one that's stayed with me the most is "The Bully".
In it, Kuriko relates a tale to her beloved Yutaro of how, when she was a young girl, she was given the task to babysit a younger boy, Nao, at a local playground. Because she was expected to do it every day and the boy was so clingy, she soon grew to hate him, and began to bully him. At this point, Ito's depiction of Kuriko goes from sweet'n'innocent to demented.
The bullying escalated till the point where Nao got seriously hurt.
Despite her confession, Yutaro still loves Kuriko until she makes a further revelation: she recently met Nao as a young man. He's seemingly forgiven her and the pair have fallen in love. They get married and have a son, Hiroshi. But, one day, Nao disappears and never returns. An increasingly fragile and despairing Kuriko waits for him to come back for four years until...the day she looks at a whiny, clingy Hiroshi and notes that he looks a lot like his father at that age. A shadow crosses Kuriko's face and she calls him "Nao".
"You know, Mommy used to bully little Nao," she tells her confused son, "He was so cute when I bullied him. It was fun... Somehow, I feel like bullying him again."
After pulling on Hiroshi's ears till he cries, Kuriko goes into the bathroom to apply some make-up, puts on her old school uniform and drags her son off to the playground at night. Her descent into madness is complete...


The last panel leaves the rest of the unfolding horror to the reader's imagination. It's a fitting conclusion to the strongest tale in this collection. Ito, you mad bastard, where do you come up with these ideas?

And then, somewhat creepily, a cosplayer decided to
recreate the lead character from "The Bully"...

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