Junji Ito (born July 31, 1963) is a Japanese horror manga artist.
Junji Ito uses a distinctive style to portray his stories in manga, with large amounts of detail and use of dramatic sound effects at important scenes. He also has several recurring themes in his work.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Physical appearance is often used as a shorthand for various alignments in Ito's manga. Extremely attractive (e.g. Tomie, The Intersection Bishonen, and the girls affected by the "beauty disease" in Dying Young) and unattractive (e.g. Souichi Tsujii, the neighbor from The Neighbor's Window, and the Reanimator) characters are usually antagonistic and/or supernatural in some way; conversely, most of the protagonists are relatively mundane in appearance. However, more "normal"-looking characters can also act as antagonists, such as the Ice Cream Bus driver, even without falling victim to supernatural corruption.
Most of Ito's work includes detailed imagery of human (and sometimes animal) anatomy twisted into something bizarre and frightening. This includes gruesome transformations (e.g. Long Dream, The Enigma of Amigara Fault, and Dissection Girl), portrayal of aliens and monsters (e.g. The Neighbor's Window, Hellstar Remina, and The Thing That Drifted Ashore), and the aftermath of severe injury or death (e.g. Street of Gravestones, Tomio: Red Turtleneck, or Army of One).
Criticism of Japanese Society
Sometimes, Ito uses elements of Japanese society (or society in general) as story elements, often painting them in a negative light. For instance, Hellstar Remina can be seen as a satire of Japan's highly exploitative pop idol culture, while the constant privacy invasions of The Town Without Streets allude to the rise of the Internet and other methods of tracking others.
A few of Ito's stories also invoke horror through "improper" treatment of the dead, such as desecration of grave sites or burial of a body without cremating it first (both are seen as highly unnatural in Japanese society).
Ito is also notable as one of the few manga writers who has addressed the subject of Japan's war crimes during World War II—the "death stench" in Gyo is implied to be the result of Imperial Japan's horrific human experimentation.
Many of Ito's stories involve characters dealing with copies of themselves or others. Some examples include:
- The Tomie series: The titular character constantly generates new instances of herself from (parts of) her body.
- The Face Burglar: A character is able to take on the facial features of others.
- The Hanging Balloons: Characters are stalked by giant balloon-like versions of their heads.
- Memories: The main character is haunted by faint visions of a hideous version of herself.
- Scarecrows: Scarecrows planted near graves take on the features of the deceased.
- Tooru Oshikiri sometimes encounters alternate versions of himself that appear from portals in his mansion.
Some of Junji Ito's stories use hair as a plot point, such as Tomie, Uzumaki (both of which have a chapter explicitly titled "Hair"), and The Long Hair in the Attic. In other stories, hair has no importance of its own, but serves as an easy means of identifying characters (Mimi has long, light-colored hair, while Souichi has unkempt, greasy-looking bangs).
A recurring element of Ito's work is the apparent insignificance of humanity in the grand scheme of things. Most of his characters find themselves at the mercy of the supernatural forces around them; those who try to defy or control said forces inevitably meet unfortunate fates.
In many cases, Junji Ito also uses small-scale cases of helplessness, with characters feeling trapped by circumstances or the actions of themselves and those around them. Examples of this include:
- In the Valley of Mirrors and Twisted Souls: A pair of young lovers are unable to see each other due to a feud between their families.
- Approval: A man is constantly denied the right to marry his fiancé by the latter's father, yet the woman continues insisting that he try.
- House of the Marionettes: A family begins living as "human puppets", surrendering all control of their bodies to hired puppeteers living in the ceiling.
One of Junji Ito's most apparent themes is his tendency to leave many questions unanswered. Several of his stories have very little explanation for the source of supernatural phenomenon, with major examples including:
- The origin of the spiral city beneath Kurozu-cho in Uzumaki.
- The origins of Tomie and her powers.
- The source of the afflictions in Dying Young, Long Dream, She is a Slow Walker, Slug Girl, and A Doll's Hellish Burial.
- The creators of the eponymous enigma at Amigara Fault.
- The origins of the eponymous Hanging Balloons.
Alternately, Junji Ito may opt to leave the ending of his story at an ambiguous moment, such as:
- Ribs Woman: The mysterious woman is never found, but her haunting music can still be heard in the night.
- Hellstar Remina: The few survivors of the planet's destruction are left floating through space in a bomb shelter, with enough supplies to last them for a year. Their chances of survival are slim, but they retain hope that they may yet find help before their supplies run out.
- Inside the Earth...: It is not explained how Kuni entered the time capsule, or how she could call Teranishi over the phone despite lacking power, food, water, or air.
- Gyo: The main protagonist is last seen meeting up with a group of people immune to the Death-Stench, who are searching for a way to cure the plague.
- In Old Records: The fate of the haunted record remains unknown, despite at least two other people still aware of its existence and seeking it out.
At some point of many Ito stories, some characters develop an uncontrolled obsession towards an object, another character or a phenomena. This can take the form of fascination or aversion of the subject; some stories even incorporate both at once (e.g. the eponymous character of the Tomie series inspires men to alternately dote on and despise her).
Examples of fascination-type obsessions:
- Splatter Film: Every character that tastes the mysterious "honey" loses appetite towards other foods, leading them to want more honey despite the risk of "being caught".
- Black Paradox: Many characters become fascinated by Paradoxical Nights, in particular Dr. Suka and Rei Tanio.
- Magami Nanakuse: The titular character is an author who writes about obsessive characters with repetitive quirks. She is revealed to find inspiration by observing unique quirks in real people.
- Uzumaki: Shuichi Saito's father becomes fascinated by spirals, gathering spiral-themed objects and learning to "call the spiral from within yourself".
Examples of aversion-type obsessions:
- Black Paradox: Marusou's paranoia towards the Paradoxical Nights.
- Slug Girl: Yuuko's fear of slugs.
- The Thing That Drifted Ashore: The protagonist develops a phobia of the ocean after visiting an aquarium with his parents.
- Uzumaki: Shuichi Saito's mother becomes deathly afraid of spirals following her husband's death.
Many of Junji Ito's stories detail the fall of civilization, in both figurative (everyone falling to madness or daily life being disrupted) and literal senses (the setting being ravaged or outright destroyed). Their scope can range between a single location (e.g. In the Valley of Mirrors, The Town Without Streets) to the entire planet (e.g. She is a Slow Walker, Hellstar Remina). In some cases, the fall is implied or hinted to be imminent at the conclusion of the story (e.g. The Village of Sirens, The Hanging Balloons).
Some of Ito's work focuses on established traditions or routines that the characters follow. Examples include:
- In the Valley of Mirrors: The people of Kimon Vale and Kimon Glen have a long-standing hatred of each other, with both villages become incensed when a couple attempts to elope.
- Love as Scripted: Takahashi always breaks up with his girlfriend by giving them a tape of himself engaging them in imagined conversations.
- My Dear Ancestors: The men of the Makita family attach their brains to the head of the current patriarch in order to preserve their consciousness.
- Street of Gravestones: A remote town refuses to move bodies from where they die, in order to let them transform into gravestones.