Now that I am about to go to England, let’s talk about Japan

You might have noticed I’ve added Daniel Lau to my links over there on the sidebar.  Like most of the people under his divider, he’s not someone I know personally, but he’s someone I think is very cool.  He blogs from Japan, and while it may seem excessive to link to two Japan-oriented blogs, especially when the first one is just so awesome, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I like Japan.  Big surprise, you say!  My whole generation likes Japan!  They love 4chan and Naruto headbands and Trigun beanies that look like that damn cat and Fullmetal Alchemist tote bags!  Well, yes, that is partly true, but I think those things are annoying.  KC Green’s Anime Club is, I think, a very accurate sendup of the whole mess.

I like Japan not because I’m obsessed with a cartoon show (unless it’s by Satoshi Kon or something I guess).  I like Japan because I like stories, and I’ve come of age at a time when Japan’s stories are translated widely into English and made freely available to unwashed barbarians such as myself.  This has all been a roundabout way for me to explain why I am so pleased that Daniel Lau exists: he translates a damn boatload of Junji Ito manga.  You may not be familiar with Junji Ito, or the idea of manga, so let me rephrase that: Daniel Lau translates a boatload of Japanese comics by a writer/artist named Junji Ito.  Specifically, horror comics — and we all know how I like to have big, self-important ideas about horror.

itoWell, I will tell you today’s big self-important idea about horror: I think Junji Ito might be the best horror writer of the second half of the twentieth century (scope limited to keep me from pitting him and Lovecraft against one another).  Yes he makes comics, yes he writes in Japanese, no it doesn’t goddamn matter.  Since he uses drawings there’s a lot of visceral, gross-out shock imagery — which is really fucking effective a lot of the time — but Ito can achieve a deceptive complexity that escapes you if you’re reading for jumps and gross-outs.  His longest and (to date, of those I have been able to read) best work is Uzumaki, about a small town that is slowly taken over by (of all things) spirals.  As in, the shape.  This series is great in its concept and just as pure entertainment, but if you read between the lines you come to understand that the entire thing is scathing critique of late-capitalist economics, the negative effects of devoted fandom, and celebrity culture.  It is fucking brilliant.

So I’m grateful Daniel Lau is around do to his own translations of Ito manga that probably either won’t ever be officially released in English or at least won’t be released any time soon.  Sure, most of Ito’s short works don’t come close to the heights of his longer stuff, but I think it’s a treat to be able to read anything by him.  If you’re interested in checking Ito out, then head on over to Lau’s blog and download a few chapters from the Voices in the Dark anthology — be warned that all or some of them are definitely not for the squeamish.  They jump between downright stupid and nasty to eerily poignant, which is something Ito seems especially adept at doing.  If you’re looking for cream of the crop gross-out, I recommend Glyceride, while the most sweetly sad story so far is The Earthbound.

Those are my particular favorites so far, which is not to say the rest are bad.  Some are stronger than the others, but they’re all worth checking out.  Interestingly, Voices in the Dark seems to have a lot of macabre humor in it — something else Ito does well, though I think the best example of that from him is “The Sad Tale of the Principal Post,” which was released as a bonus chapter at the end of volume two of his evil landwalking fish series, Gyo.  And since Gyo and “Principal Post” were both licensed, translated, and released officially in America, no links for you there, sorry.

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