Junji Ito is one of the more popular horror mangaka, a torch-bearer for eroguro in the tradition of Suehiro Maruo and Hideshi Hino, (less surreal than the former, more elegant than the latter.) His world is one in which angelic beauty is only the condition preliminary to a demonic tumor, unless, of course, he’s writing sweet stories about his mischievous cats.
“Tomie,” which was collected as Volumes 1 and 2 of “Junji Ito’s Museum of Horror,” is a series of disturbing vignettes loosely linked by the idea of the titular girl, a ghostly being who compels men to murderous madness in a variety of settings. I put no big emphasis on the link because the Tomie in one story may have only a Platonic relation to the Tomie in another story: the girl’s design remains consistent, a mole under one eye, but the details of her origin story, abilities, and motivations shift. In this, she’s no different than the Jasons and Freddies of the world.
The way in which Ito feigns an interest in continuity only to abandon it at the drop of a severed head actually adds to the unsettling, disorienting atmosphere. As a matter of fact, the Tomie stories falter whenever the mangaka attempts to give them any kind of journalistic believability: then they’re exposed as childishly incoherent tales that need deep shadows and crackling flames to seem anything other than stupid. The flames and the shadows come courtesy of Ito’s masterful drawings. THE MAN CAN DRAW SCARY. This is no small talent: horror is usually based on a grotesque deformation of reality, but cartoons are already deformations of reality, so it takes a real artist to make sure that the drawing of a skeleton registers as disturbing and not just decorative, or worse, funny.
There’s something like 8 movies in the “Tomie” series to date, which you may have missed in the torrent of Japanese horror that hit video in the 2000s.
RATING: COOL! for the drawings, GOOD ENOUGH for the story.