Shiver by Junji Ito
Seventeen books by Junji Ito have now been translated into English, and while a few of them are graphic novels telling a single story, most are short story collections. Perhaps the best of them is Shiver. Shiver contains ten excellent tales and includes commentary by the author on every story as well as a final afterword. Each story also includes at the end samples of Ito’s notes (with translations). These notes, along with the commentary, give interesting insights into the stories.
Who is Junji Ito? Ito is a Japanese manga creator, writing and drawing in black-and-white all of his stories. All his work is in the horror genre, with a few dips into some science fiction elements. His writing varies from the sublime to the mediocre, so his storytelling is uneven; however, his art is always excellent, often characterized by body horror and other grotesque images and disgusting ideas. And his writing in this volume is uniformly great — that is to say, disturbing — so, combined with his art, Shiver makes for an excellent first collection to try after reading perhaps Uzumaki, his masterpiece.
The collection starts with “Used Record,” about a haunted recording that people are willing to kill for. The song is so powerful, and only one record of it exists, so people go to great lengths to acquire it. In the next story, “Shiver,” a grandfather shows up dead with holes permeating his skin all over his body. And the narrator witnesses the arm of the neighbor girl, which is also marked by holes all over it. Our narrator seeks out the mystery behind this deadly occurrence: A giant jade carving hidden in the yard. This cursed object shows up in the hand of a man with equally disturbing holes throughout his body. These images allow Ito to draw some fantastic horrific pictures. “Fashion Model” involves one model who is monstrous and who is taken into the woods by a film crew. But it turns out the crew is alone with a deadly creature. “Hanging Blimp,” one of my favorites in the collection, is about giant floating heads each with a noose hanging from it: These heads try to capture people and kill them via hanging. There are great images of these heads pursuing terrified people through the city streets.
Though I cannot go into detail for every story, I will give brief introductions to a few more of the stories: “Marionette Mansion” is about a family who has decided to live with servants controlling their bodies like marionettes. Their guests get caught up in what turns into a horrific lack of control on the part of the family. “Painter” is a Tomie story (see my review of Tomie) about a beautiful succubus who drives men crazy in their lust for her. She also, disturbingly, makes men feel compelled to chop her into pieces (each piece then grows back as a separate Tomie). In this Tomie story, a painter and a sculptor both want Tomie for a model. In “The Long Dream,” days, weeks, months, and eventually years are felt as lived time for a guy whose dreams haunt him. He wakes from each dream feeling as if he’s lived a lifetime, and he seeks help at a sleep clinic. And there are three more stories, too: “Honored Ancestors,” “Greased,” and “Fashion Model: Cursed Fame.”
All the stories are worth reading, and they are sure to hook you and make you want to seek out even more Junji Ito. Luckily, there are sixteen more volumes to read and more coming out this year. And at age 59, Junji Ito has many more years of manga productivity ahead of him one can only hope. But for now, start with Shiver and Uzumaki, his best short story collection and graphic novel, respectively.