The Twisted World of Junji Ito

The Twisted World of Junji Ito

Today, folks, I want to take you down to the lowest level of Hell for you to witness the imagery that could only be conceived by the twisted genius of this man's magnitude. He has been lorded across the west as being the, ‘Japanese Clive Barker’ a title he truly has earned, but his work is in no way derivative of his.

I want to take you into the macabre world of Junji Ito.


The man himself, along with a few of his creations


Junji Ito was born in the Gifu prefecture of Japan in 1963. He was inspired from a young age by both his older sister’s drawings and the work of Kazuo Umezu. Ito first began writing and drawing manga as a hobby while working as a dental technician in the early 90’s. 
Ito taps into a very primal fear, the fear of the deformation of the body horror. His stories usually centre around seemingly ordinary characters who begin to act out of irrational compulsion, the breakdown of society, carnivorous deep-sea organisms, and the inevitability of one’s tragic demise. Ito’s universe is very cruel and capricious; his characters often find themselves victims of malevolent unnatural circumstances for no discernible reason or punished out of proportion for minor infractions against an unknown and incomprehensible natural order.
The Hanging Balloons is one of Ito’s most surreal stories. It begins with a young girl who is trapped in her bedroom, being taunted by her own voice from outside her window to open up and let it in. 


They'll never stop floating until they get you


We find out that the voice is a gigantic balloon of the girl’s head with a swinging noose attached that wishes for nothing other than to wrap it round her neck and strangle her. The whole of Tokyo is under attack from these same balloons. Every person has a balloon out to kill them, and if the balloons are harmed then the person who resembles the balloon is harmed in the same way.

Ito builds a slow and steady pace in this one, ending with a sinister and well earned climax that will cause you to look twice the next time you see a hot air balloon in the sky. 
Works such as Uzumaki (a small town in rural Japan becomes cursed by a horrific obsession with spirals that causes many of the townsfolk to go insane) or Gya (a failed experiment that is flushed into the sea causes the Japanese marine life to spurt monstrous appendages and attack anything it see’s on sight) are some of his best known works, but I think Ito is at his very best when he presents his reader with a self-contained 24-32 page story with a solid build up and a ‘money shot’ ending.


Image from Gya


My personal favourite is The Enigma of the Amigara Faults which simply must be read if you wish to see the best of what Ito has to offer the world of horror. After an earthquake outside a rural Japanese village, the inhabitants find that the rock face of the fault is covered with human sized holes, holes that are only large enough for them to fit through and they have a horrific compulsion to enter them, regardless of the danger. Once they’ve entered, there’s no way back. I won’t tell you what happens at the end, but the final panel of the story is an image so haunting that it will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished it.


This story creates such a looming dread


Ito has cited Hideshi Hino, Koga Shinsaku, Yasutaka Tsutsui, and H.P. Lovecraft as being major influences on his work. The Lovecraftian atmosphere is very clear and the cruelty and indifference to the suffering of Ito's protagonist's adds to both the intrigue and the terror for us the reader.

If you have never read anything by this man, I strongly recommend his stories... But don't read them just before bed.
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