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Itō, Junji

Entry updated 6 November 2023. Tagged: Artist, Author, Comics.

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(1963-    ) Japanese Comics artist and writer. After a few years working as a dental technician he became a full-time Manga artist. Most of Itō's output is Horror, but often incorporates other Fantastika genres; his influences include manga artists Kazuo Umezu and Hideshi Hino, plus authors Yasutaka Tsutsui and H P Lovecraft. He first gained attention with Tomie (1987-2000 Monthly Halloween/Nemuki; trans graph 2016), about a beautiful young woman who drives men to violence, often against herself: however, she can regenerate from virtually any damage (see Immortality) and into multiple versions of herself (see Clones).

His most overtly SF work is Remina (September 2004-July 2005, Big Comic Spirits; original title Jigokusei Remina; vt Hellstar Remina; trans graph 2020), set in the Near Future – the twenty-first century, but with flying cars. A planet passes through a Wormhole into our Dimension and is named Remina, after the daughter of the Scientist who discovers it. Stars in its vicinity vanish; it is heading towards Earth (its unscientific attributes, such as moving Faster Than Light, are explained by its home universe's laws of Physics being different from ours). When the Outer Planets begin to disappear there is panic, with mobs blaming Remina and her father. On arrival the planet is revealed to be a Living World with eye, mouth and tongue: Earth is duly devoured (see End of the World) but Remina and a handful of others sheltering in an industrialist's bomb shelter are flung free. The story ends with them in space, with a year's supplies and hoping for a miracle.

In Gyo (November 2001-April 2002 Big Comic Spirits; original title Gyo: Ugomeku Bukimi; trans graph 2015), fish with mechanical legs invade Japan; though they reek of human corpses, people are more worried by the great white sharks entering their homes. A Scientist recalls his father developed biological Weapons for the Japanese military during World War Two, including a germ which produced such an odour. As the germs paralysed the host animals, mechanical walkers – powered by the gas – were built (see Cyborgs); however, the ship carrying the handful of prototypes was sunk by the Americans. The devices now begin replacing the decaying fish with germ-infected people. Scientists – working to create an anti-virus to kill the germ – hypothesize the devices are self-replicating. "Perhaps the bacteria which makes the gas synthesized with the wrecks of battleships ... a machine created by Mother Nature ..." (see Imaginary Science). The manga is both Absurdist and disturbing, with a suggestion the gas is controlled by the ghosts (see Supernatural Creatures) of the people experimented on by the Japanese military during the war (see Torture). The story was adapted into Takayuki Hirao's Anime Gyo (2012; vt Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack), originally intended as straight-to-video, but conveniently feature-length and hence screened as a film at some foreign venues.

Itō's best-known work is Uzumaki (January 1998-August 1999 Big Comic Spirits; vt Spiral; trans graph 2013). A spiral-fixated man dies after grotesquely screwing his body into a coil, the smoke from his cremation contaminating the town. A schoolgirl's small half-moon forehead scar expands into a spiral cone that burrows into her face (Itō's most iconic image) then consumes her whole body. Matters escalate: people turn into snails and the town's streets contort into a coil, with a well at the centre lined by a spiral staircase descending to a deserted Underground City of spirals. On the surface the town waits for a new settlement to be built on its ruins.

Itō has also produced many shorter works, including The Enigma of Amigara Fault (issue 2000/12, Spirits Special IKKI), where the face of a mountainside fault exposed by an earthquake is found to be covered with human-shaped caves. People become convinced individual holes are theirs – confirmed by the snug fit when they enter and disappear from sight. Several months later scientists examine a newly found fault on the other side of the mountain, but the caves here are narrower, distorted ... and from the depths of one something approaches (see Shapeshifters). It was referenced in Steven Universe (2013-2020) with the gem Kindergarten. In Hanging Blimp (issue 1994/01 Monthly Halloween; vt The Hanging Balloons) the skies are filled with giant face-shaped balloons with dangling nooses that capture and lynch those whose face they bear. The Long Dream (issue 1997/01 Nemuki) has a hospital patient's overnight dreams subjectively lasting years, the time-scale vastly increasing each night – reflecting in his appearance, which evolves into a future human form (see evolution), then into something no longer human, before finally crumbling into crystals: we are to infer that he has dreamt for millions of years (see Time Abyss). A doctor uses the crystals to experiment on another patient, who fears death: he hopes eventually that minds will be able to sustain an eternal dream, a kind of Immortality. Already the patient's features are changing. Itō has also published a manga adaption of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818, rev 1831).

Protagonists tend to exist mainly as shocked, impotent witnesses to an unfurling nightmare, as people suffer transformation (body horror through metamorphosis), experiencing the whim or animosity of some unfathomable cosmic horror. Itō also produces non-supernatural horror, such as The Human Chair (January 2004 Big Comic Spirits), based on a story by Ranpo Edogawa, where an infatuated man conceals himself in a woman's chair. At his best Itō creates memorable imagery that incites a weird, profound unease. Many of his works are classics of the horror genre, particularly Uzumaki and The Enigma of Amigara Fault, but also Gyo and The Long Dream. Remina, the nearest to core sf, is not at this level but is still good. [SP]

Junji Itō

born Nakatsugawa, Gifu, Japan: 31 July 1963

works (selected English-language editions)


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