HP Lovecraft Goes to an Anime Convention

You who consider yourself enlightened may still yet laugh at me, but I say to you again: the mind of man, in his Troglodyte infancy, has never dared to imagine the terror I experienced during my two days and three nights wandering the foetid catacombs of the local convention center.

At every turn a new grotesque assailed my eyes: from shimmering diaphanous wraiths with silver hair, to abnormally corpulent beings whose very bodies seemed unnaturally imbricated in the bounds of our sublunary space, and also their homemade Sailor Moon outfits.  My relief at spotting, in the undulating mass of terror, a pair of fuzzy cat ears turned quickly to extremest nausea when I saw they belonged not to a cute little kitty but a squamous youth protesting loudly to the price of a certain table’s merch.

I retreated to the balcony to recompose and it seemed, for a moment, as if a noxious cloud hovered over the entirety of that hideous scene, a condensation nearly visible in its dank iridescence.  The cries of those foul creatures echoed up the columned walls, ululating cries for such incomprehensible entities as “huggles” and “glomps” — and even, in some tenebrous corners, were the hushed, mad whispers of “yiff!”

“Eh, you must be a stranger in these parts,” murmured a voice to my side and, turning, I saw a slight, yellowed old man who by his attire I recognised as a custodian.  “Happens every year.  Olways a young man not much dif’rent than yeself shows up to this here convention, not knowin’ what he’s in fahr.”  His eyes regarded me with a lizardlike intelligence that inspired in the pit of my being a wordless unease.  “‘T ain’t so bad onct yer used ta it,” the custodian continued.  “I’m rememborin’ way back in Ninety-Eight when we began hostin’ this deal…. Wal, Sir, you can believe thar was a lot o’ outcry at the noise an’ the mess.  I was one o’ them!  But after some years had gone by and by ye start to git used to perty much anythin’, ye reckon.”  He chuckled loathsomely.

“Anyhaow,” he said, shaking the leathery head when he saw my horror was not assuaged, “what it was fer me, was I seen ’em at their meals.   This stuff called… ah, ah, Pocky, ye ken?  Can’t tell ye ‘zactly whut makes it whut it is… a kinda… cookie dipped in… dipped in whatever one might imagine, d’ye see?  An’ I saw ’em with it, monchin’ and snarfin and snackin’ and I jus’…. got a cravin’…. Queer haow a cravin’ gets ahold on ye, eh boy…?”

My mind pushed to the very limits of exertion, I made to flee for good.  Yet the convention center maps, posted to the walls like horrid, unremembered glyphs, are all but unreadable and after more than one wrong turn I realised I had furtively stumbled into the very nexus of that maelstrom: the Screening Room.

That thing — that terrible unnameable thing — towered above me, projected through the fuliginous aether of that room to proportions unnatural, though it was dimly and reluctantly understood that even unprojected it was a being wholly disproportionate to any known body: its eyes hovered like gibbous moons, iridescent like pools of ichor suspended whole, against the natural laws of physics, in a malformed skull, while about it splayed in non-Euclidean angles, in a shade of the most decadent purple, structures that might have been in some perverse evolutionary perspective homologous to hair.  Before I could leave the room that thing began to gambol, to the amusement of its wretched audience, and began to gibber in its alien tongue: “Onii-chan!  Onii-chan! Itai!!!

And then came the tentacles.

Itai!!!

 

Should have gotten on that bus

Today let’s look at some links, guys!

First off, my friend and yours Ross “Japanese Literature” Henderson has translated a few amusing Haruki Murakami parodies over at his blog.

Secondly, my friend Anna who does good poetry and is awesome has pointed me toward these poems by Mark Leidner, who also does good poetry and is awesome but I don’t know him personally so Anna is cooler in that regard.  You may also notice that Anna, like a good college student, is now ABROAD, much like I was last year.  She is currently blogging her experiences in Jordan!  As always she is by turns hilarious and capable of an emotional honesty that will forever elude me in my writing, autobiographical or otherwise.

What are you waiting for GO GO GO READ READ READ

Friday reading

In case you’re not into A Serious Game, Samehat‘s tumblr recently brought to my attention Tokyo Scum Brigade’s fantastic writeup on the history of Lovecraft in Japanese literature and pop culture.

…June 2010 saw the stars quake in ecstasy with the dual release of My Maid is an Amorphous Blob, the tale of a boy and his blob cosplaying Shoggoth, and The Magickal Girl R’lyeh Lulu, a return to form for tentacle rape and youth erotica.

Read it read it read it read it!

This blogging thing

Sometimes it seems like a bad idea to do this blog every Friday, especially on the Fridays when I have nothing important to say — not even literary criticism quotes! — and this Friday is one of them.  The year is winding down, I got a few final papers to write up, some drafts of some stories to do, and three more grad school applications to finish.

However, it is cold, and there is snow, so let’s enjoy the beginning of this wondrous season with a special performance by my new favorite musical artist, OtamaTone.

Hippolyte Taine and the History of English Literature

The family is a natural state, primitive and restrained, as the state is an artificial family, ulterior and expanded; and amongst the differences arising from the number, origin, and condition of its members, we discover in the small society as in the great, a like disposition of the fundamental intelligence which assimilates and unites them.  Now suppose that this element receives from circumstances, race, or epoch certain special marks, it is clear that all the groups into which it enters, will be modified proportionately.  If the sentiment of obedience is merely fear, you will find, as in most Oriental states, a brutal despotism, exaggerated punishment, oppression of the subject, servility of manners, insecurity of property, an impoverished production, the slavery of women, and the customs of the harem.

How to Read (My Blog) and Why

I have started my fourth year of postsecondary education, my senior year of college.  Since that is really about as interesting as my life gets, that’s about as much as I’ll blog about it.  This space is more for me ranting about pop culture and trying to sound intellectual, anyway.

What I am getting at is that, since this is my senior year, I have a senior seminar, which means I am going to be reading a shit-ton of Theory.  This will probably leak over into my habits here.  I’m not going to, like, give you a crash course in semiotics or anything (unless you really want me to I guess, just ask), but it’s just a warning that I may be doing a lot of rumination about the study of literature in and of itself.

Also I will share stupid links, as they intrigue me.  I’ve already talked about Satoshi Kon and his influence on me, and my feelings about his death, so I feel it is appropriate that I follow that up with his goodbye letter.  The final farewell really makes it for me — sorry to be leaving before you, indeed.  Heh.

And then…

It may or may not be apparent in reading my blog but there are very few things that have the power to make me genuinely happy to be alive.

That is not some confession of crippling depression on my part but a statement of fact — life, in general, is not something I have very strong feelings about.  Existence, as such, simply is.  DFW has that thing about the fish in the water — this is water, this is water, this is water — and he’s right when he says you have to make a concerted effort to realize, at every single moment of your life, that not only do you exist, but you are surrounded by other people that exist, and this in and of itself is pretty damn amazing.

Sometimes there are artists who help me realize this.  They are the ones who affect me the most strongly, the ones I feel the most affection for.  Shakespeare is one of them.  Satoshi Kon is another.

I am not saying Kon was Shakespeare’s equal or anything, but that for me, at least, he was a remarkably important storyteller.  When I heard he died today, I was upset — about as upset as you can be about the death of a person whom you’ve never met and can’t really make any sort of personal judgment on.  I didn’t cry or weep or anything, but I was disheartened in knowing that one of the few bright lights in the pantheon of pop culture I constantly ingest had gone out.

Kon liked fantasy.  He liked showing us how cool fantasy could be, but also how dangerous — how our fantasies can consume us.  When I was in high school, for various personal reasons, this became a very important idea to me.  For other reasons it still is, because I deal in fantasy.  I study fantasy for a living, in a sense, and my eventual desire is to teach it to others.  And our fantasies, the little stories we tell ourselves, can have incredibly important impacts on what constitutes real life.  Kon helped me realize this, and he helped me realize it without being some sort of materialist reactionary.

He knew, I think, that fantasies can be dangerous, but they are also humanizing.  His film Tokyo Godfathers is one of my favorites, and probably near the top on my list of “things that are important to me as a human being.”  I watch it every Christmas.  While it’s his least fantastical movie, I think it’s his best, because it’s the one where I think you see the painful beating heart of Kon’s humanism most clearly.  The fantasies of the characters are harmful, yes, but they’re also how they survive — and in the end the theme of the film seems to be an urge to be discriminating about our fantasies, to be critical of them, and to choose not the ones that simply make our pains and fears and jealousies go away, but the ones that tell us that everyone is subject to pains and fears and jealousies, and that it is only by reckoning our own existence and the existence of others with these inevitable disappointments that we can be healthy people.

We need fantasies that remind us, in DFW’s terms, that this is water.  We need fantasies that help us understand what it is to be alive.  We need fantasies that help us understand the connections we make with each other, and the kind of existence this fashions for us.  We need fantasies that help us understand the world, not hide from it.

There are very few things that make me genuinely happy to be alive.  Satoshi Kon’s films are one of those things.

No good news this chapter.

Daniel Lau finished up Hellstar Remina a few weeks ago, and while the finished product does a mad tapdance between hysterically funny/cheesy and a lackluster execution of intriguing ideas, the volume’s bonus story is pretty damn cool.  You may remember that I have highfalutin ideas about Ito, and I think here we see him approaching something like Uzumaki‘s levels of subtle commentary after Remina‘s madcap frenzy of cultural pseudocriticism.  (An aside: it occurs to me that it might be more profitable to read Remina as Ito’s rebuttal to the sort of glamorous, humanistic futurism hypothesized by Osamu Tezuka, but that would require more research on my part.)

Anyway, “Army of One” is doing some interesting things with the idea of hikikomori and the competing individual/collective social demands currently playing out in postmodern Japan.  I don’t think the story is as good as Uzumaki but it strikes the right balance of creeping despair and ridiculous, almost comic grotesquery, the sort of metaphysical unease that I like the best about Ito’s work and about horror and/or art in general.

Hey speaking of metaphysical unease, my friend Ross wrote some words about Haruki Murakami, the most widely read Japanese novelist in the West since probably Mishima.  They are good words!  You should read them.  And if you haven’t read Murakami, you should read him too.

Back when I was a lowly scrub who knew he liked English but didn’t know what he wanted to do with himself, I considered going into Japanese and doing some comparative lit stuff, mostly on the strength of what Murakami I’d read.  This was foolish for a couple reasons, the most obvious one being that Murakami plays with Western writers a lot more (and a lot more openly) than other Japanese writers.  This was also before I decided that he somewhat infuriates me with his method — which is to say, that he makes it all up as he goes along.

This is something Stephen King recommends.  I don’t truck with it, personally, but it has the ability to turn out some good work.  However, you see the same sort of problems in both King and Murakami’s work, namely, that the motherfuckers can’t end a book in any reasonable fashion.  The difference is that King makes up monsters and spooks that dramatize or abstract certain American middle class malaises, the sort of things you’d get in John Updike; Murakami does this to some degree, but he also plays more subtly and loosely with his (technical literary term incoming) weird-ass shit, so you can read in a veneer of literary pretension (ie, magical realism) and often skew it as speaking more broadly about Japanese society in a very profound way.

A Vicious Spiral: Enchanted Commodities and Cultural Narcissism in Junji Ito’s Uzumaki

I missed last week’s blog because I was out of town for a graduation, and I might miss this week’s because I’ll be working on my current Shakespeare paper (it’s gonna be really cool, I promise).  However, I’ve been trawling through my archives and I’ve found a paper I wrote three whole years ago on the horror manga of one Junji Ito.  I’ve mentioned this before, back when I was singing the praises of Daniel Lau, renegade translator of many an Ito story otherwise unreadable by my paynim eyes.  Incidentally, Lau is currently translating the long overdue Hellstar Remina, Ito’s saga of a Lovecraftian sci-fi apocalypse, and it’s silly as all get-out but very fun to read.  It also makes very, very blatant some of the themes I teased out of Ito’s Uzumaki, which I still hold to be the current purest expression of his style and concerns.

So in case you haven’t read Uzumaki and you really want to, turn away now — go buy the books or borrow them or something.  Read it, it’s worth it.  If you have read it, then I’ve reproduced for you below my paper on the manga, which I think holds up surprisingly well.  There are a few things I want to point out, though.  One is that I read Uzumaki back in the day when our manga (if it was officially imported and translated at all) was flipped to read left to right, so all of my references to the comic are to these older editions — as I understand it, non-mirrored editions have since been released.  The second point I’d like to make is that if this paper seems a bit weird and childish and very, very quotey, well, I was a college freshman when I wrote it.  I’ve learned a thing or two since then.

So without further ado I give you…

A Vicious Spiral:

Enchanted Commodities and Cultural Narcissism in Junji Ito’s Uzumaki

Early in the first volume of Junji Ito’s horror manga Uzumaki, its protagonist Kirie Goshima, a high school girl, remarks, “I don’t think it’s that weird to be into spirals. I mean, there are people who collect much stranger things” (21). She is referring to Mr. Sato, the father of her boyfriend Shuichi. By this point the reader is well aware that Mr. Sato has recently become obsessed with collecting anything evoking a spiral pattern — sometimes spending hours staring at snail shells lying on the ground — and Shuichi is very unsettled. Both Kirie and the Sato family live in Kurozu-cho, a typical seaside community in Japan — a nation where “having a hobby or two is a big deal” (Kelts 158).

Fan culture in Japan is a unique beast; for example, until the term was appropriated by American fans of Japanese culture, Japan was the only nation that had otaku, or “people who live for their hobbies or interests” (Kelts 160). The closest equivalents were the American Star Trek fans, or Trekkies, but in Japan the idea was expanded: to be an otaku you do not have to be a fan of a particular television series, you simply have to be a fan. Certainly it may seem strange that Mr. Sato has become a spiral otaku, but in a country where people may develop intense fascinations with anthropomorphic personifications of computer operating systems, is liking a particular pattern or shape really that odd?  Yet Kirie soon learns that Shuichi has every right to be upset. Not only is Mr. Sato’s spiral obsession dangerous, it’s contagious.

The choice of the Japanese word uzumaki is important. Despite being translated as “spiral” for the English release of the film based on the manga (and the manga’s English tagline, “Spiral into Horror”) a closer translation of uzumaki is ‘whirlpool’ (“Uzumaki”). Though whirlpools are often associated with the spiral shape, they have the unique property of actively drawing someone in; they are forces that pull people or things inexorably toward their center to sink or drown. This is integral to what may be seen as Ito’s critique of (to borrow a term from Anne Allison) “enchanted commodities,” a system where “play creatures … are packaged to feed a consumer fetishism that … penetrates the texture of ordinary life in ever more polymorphous ways” (Allison 16). This could easily describe the spiral obsession of Mr. Sato. Allison explains in Millennial Monsters that the polymorphous perverse pleasure “extends over multiple territories” and “can be triggered by any number of stimuli” (10).

This is plainly displayed in the manga’s first volume: when Shuichi explains the extent of his father’s hobby, we see a panel showing Mr. Sato sitting in a room filled with spiral-shaped objects and objects adorned with spiral patterns (22). Mr. Sato’s consumer fetishism is focused on the shape (the spiral), while its actual form (incense coil, kimono fabric pattern, etc.) is irrelevant. The spiral could stand in for any possible quality that makes a commodity “enchanted” in the eyes of the consumer, be it a brand name or association with a particular character or mascot. Reading the manga this way, we see that these enchanted qualities can (drawing on the spiral’s iconographic connotations) disorient, confuse, and enthrall, inexorably drawing the consumer deeper into a frenzy of collection.

In Roland Kelts’ book Japanamerica, he claims that one of the reasons Japanese pop culture is so successful both in its native country and abroad is that “fandom is participatory, and communal” — what Kelts calls “the do-it-yourself (DIY) factor” (147). Fans of a particular anime or manga, for example, will fashion their own costumes after the outfits of their favorite characters (‘costume play’ or cosplay), while other fans may write and draw their own doujinshi — fan-made manga using characters from the amateur artist’s own favorite series.

The fans that make the most accurate costumes or most entertaining doujinshi gain a favorable reputation among other fans and garner interest in the original anime or manga, expanding the consumer base and at the same time producing more fans, who will create their own content and continue the cycle. Uzumaki has its own sardonic take on this DIY factor in the first volume: when Shuichi’s mother, concerned because her husband has stopped going to work, throws away the entire spiral collection, Mr. Sato is at first furious, then smug. “I don’t care,” he utters, before screaming: “I don’t need to collect spirals anymore! I finally realized that you can make spirals yourself! You’ll see! You can express the spiral through your own body!” (29, my italics in both cases).

Almost immediately after this outburst Mr. Sato removes his glasses and begins to roll his eyes — each moving in opposite directions. The body horror escalates: in a second encounter, Mr. Sato shows Kirie that he can now extend his tongue inhumanly far and curl it into a spiral shape and, following the man’s death, Shuichi reveals that his father committed suicide by crawling into a round barrel and contorting himself into a spiral, breaking every bone in his body. In a darkly humorous fashion, Mr. Sato’s death might be considered the ultimate form of cosplay: he truly becomes his obsession, rather than simply dressing up as it. Even when his body is cremated, the smoke of Mr. Sato’s ashes forms a spiral cloud in the sky.

But, as Kelts says, Japanese fandom is communal — and so is Ito’s analogue for it, the spiral obsession. Shuichi’s mother, following her husband’s death, develops an intense fear of spirals; every time she sees one, she only sees her husband’s grotesque body and hears his voice begging her to “join [him] in the spiral” (Ito, Volume One 53). She removes all spirals from her body by shaving off her hair, cutting off the tips of her fingers to remove the prints, and finally stabbing herself to remove the spiral-shaped cochlea of her inner ear. She dies soon thereafter, having destroyed her sense of balance and, for the short remainder of her life, experiencing a permanent sense of spinning vertigo — “I don’t want to become a spiral!” she protests (Volume One 74). Following cremation, her body’s ashes also form a spiral cloud. With her death it seems the floodgates are thrown open and the spiral obsession is loosed upon Kurozu-cho in full force. Soon, Kirie and Shuichi are forced to deal with multiple bizarre situations where people “become” spirals or “express” the spiral through their bodies.

The strange way in which the spirals themselves seem to be alive and in which people seem to become spirals is informed by two particular facets of the Japanese mindset. The first, drawing on a history of Shintoist animism, is “a tendency to see the world as animated by a variety of beings, both worldly and otherworldly, that are complex, (inter)changeable, and not graspable by so-called rational (or visible) means alone” (Allison 12). In Ito’s world, the spirals are an ancient, incomprehensible force; roughly halfway through the third volume, Kirie finds an ancient map in an equally old Japanese-style row house. Drawn in the place of Kurozu-cho is an immense spiral, implying that the spiral obsession has its roots in the distant past and is, in fact, part of the city’s very foundation or the environment itself.

Similarly, the act of “becoming” a spiral reflects a Japanese predilection for morphing and transformation in media, fostered in the wake of the country’s defeat in World War II and the appearance of “unstable and shifting worlds where characters, monstrously wounded by violence and collapse of authority, reemerge with reconstituted selves” (Allison 12). In recent times this morphing has become a positive attribute with such franchises as the Super Sentai series, but in Uzumaki Ito utilizes transformation in a much more negative way, reminiscent of the post-war Gojira: the people of Kurozu-cho appear to mutate into destructive, mindless beasts. These concepts of animism and mutability come together in Uzumaki’s gloomy finale.

Kurozu-cho has been decimated, leaving the old row houses as the only shelters, and in visuals the landscape mimics a war zone.  In the wake of this pseudo-atomic bomb blast, the people of the city begin rebuilding their lives, just as the Japanese attempted to rebuild following WWII.  However, the survivors have begun a process of expansion, linking the old buildings as one superstructure in — of course — the form of a giant spiral, beginning at the edge of town and stopping at a pond in Kurozu-cho’s center. As Kirie and Shuichi soon discover, the people living in these row houses are no longer human in the strictest sense of the word: they still speak like human beings, yes, but a combination of living in close quarters and malign supernatural influences have transformed them into slimy, genderless, boneless creatures whose limbs have twined and looped together in a seemingly infinite mass.

When Kurozu-cho’s pond drains (in a clear echo of the uzumaki or whirlpool of the title), it reveals a strange spiral staircase leading down into the earth, and the massive interconnected swirl of former humans gleefully slides out of their row house en masse. Kirie and Shuichi follow and discover, miles beneath Kurozu-cho, an eldritch city of stone spiral towers. Shuichi remarks that it feels as if the ruins are alive and watching him: “It’s like it’s cursing us for being underground, hidden from all the eyes up there” (Volume Three 214).

The countless people from Kurozu-cho who litter the ground stare blankly into the spiral city, and Kirie notes that they seem to be turning to stone. Shuichi continues: “I don’t know who… or what built it here, or why… but every so often, every few hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousand years, it can reach the people above ground. And even though its builders are gone… maybe it’s still building itself” (Volume Three 214). The petrified half-humans with their distended, looping, spiraling bodies appear to be the living city’s latest additions, new building blocks to fuel its infinite growth. Shuichi, who has been injured in a fall, orders Kirie to leave him and escape to the surface. She refuses, choosing instead to embrace Shuichi, and as they lay together on the stones that used to be their neighbors, the couple’s arms and legs begin to twist together. The animate stone city draws people to it and morphs them into an extension of itself: every citizen of Kurozu-cho has had his or her obsession satisfied and has finally become part of the spiral.

But in Japan, where it is not at all uncommon to see in fiction “a universe where the borders between thing and life continually cross and intermesh” (Allison 13), why is Uzumaki horrifying? Why is its morphing scary and unsettling, while the morphing of the Super Sentai series is one of the largest parts of the program’s appeal? I believe the answer may lie in the horrific themes of narcissism. The old horror story is generally a tale of punishment for unexpiated sin, but as American critic John G. Parks observed in 1978, “Nearly all characters [of the modern horror story] are narcissistic.” In 1979, cultural historian Christopher Lasch published The Culture of Narcissism, in which he argued that late-capitalist society had bred a generation of Americans suffering from pathological narcissism.

Contrary to egotistical narcissists, pathological narcissists have a weak sense of self and attempt to establish it in any way possible (thus appearing, in many ways, akin to typical narcissists); Lasch insists that this type of narcissism “has more in common with self-hatred than with self-admiration” (31). He also lists the signs indicating a pathologically narcissistic personality; of particular importance for this paper is his tenth: “fascination with celebrity.” Though both Parks and Lasch are Americans writing about American issues, their observations may ring true for Japanese society, as well.

Currently the Japanese people are becoming increasingly individualistic, increasingly atomized; as Allison says, when describing what she calls “solitarism” and its relation to enchanted commodities, “people seek out companionship, but ironically (or not), the form this often takes is …. a machine or toy purchased with money that is wired into the (individual) self” (14). By the end of Uzumaki, the people of Kurozu-cho are glad to become part of the spiral, something larger than themselves, even though the thing they have become a part of is monstrous. Lasch draws links between pathological narcissism and extremist cult activity in the US (98); one may compare this with the 1995 Sarin gas subway attacks carried out by the sizeable Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo.

Japan is also a culture of celebrities, with music idols and seiyuu becoming objects of fixation for thousands of fans. A criticism of this culture is palpable in almost all of Ito’s work, and we find it reflected slyly in Uzumaki: in the first volume, a girl’s hair becomes animate and demands attention from those around her, hypnotizing them and displaying its curls for hours, but it also drains her strength and kills her, becoming more or less an independent entity. In the second volume, a black lighthouse with a strange spiraling beacon entrances all those who look see it; in the third volume, the reason Shuichi hypothesizes for the spiral city’s evil is its anger at being hidden away from all those who would see it. The spirals (that is, the enchanted commodities) are living creatures that demand attention; the pathologically narcissistic people of Kurozu-cho can provide this attention, but also crave it for themselves. Collecting is no longer enough, so they sacrifice themselves to the spirals — they become the spirals — in the maximum display of devotion and in hopes of receiving attention from others.

Even though Parks and Lasch are Americans, they both managed to describe certain cultural facets that fit almost perfectly into Uzumaki, leading me to believe that, in the era of globalization, our horror stories are also becoming globalized. A lot can be deduced about a culture from its monsters, and the fact that American and Japanese monsters are becoming more similar (the influence of Japanese horror cinema is notable in today’s American film market) implies a greater closeness of culture than ever before, perhaps brought about by both countries’ late-stage capitalism and aided, as Kelts fancies, by a similar sense of tragedy felt by the Japanese over the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and by Americans over the September 11 attacks (37).

However, despite its growing numbers of “otaku,” despite its own enchanted commodities, despite its acceptance of morphing characters, the US apparently lacks the animist context of Japanese culture that helps completely decipher Ito’s bizarre plot. Americans are also, perhaps, still too insistent on happy endings and solid resolution; the mono no aware of Ito’s ending is definitely not suited to American tastes. Uzumaki isdefinitely a Japanese work, made from a Japanese viewpoint and with Japanese readers in mind; nevertheless, its warning against the possible dangers of asserting one’s own weak personality by consuming supposed enchanted commodities, or by becoming the center of attention, or by becoming something bigger than oneself, rings true in a way that may speak to both Japanese and American readers.

In our current climates of aging capitalism, both nations travel on increasingly similar paths: paths of consumerism and narcissism that, as Ito might have it, curve inexorably inward toward a center, toward a single point — a dead end.

List of Works Cited

Allison, Anne. Millennial Monsters. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.

Ito, Junji. Uzumaki, Volume One. Trans. Yuji Oniki. 2001. San Francisco: Viz Communications, Inc, 2003.

—. Uzumaki, Volume Two. Trans. Yuji Onki. San Francisco: Viz Communications, Inc, 2002.

—. Uzumaki, Volume Three. Trans. Yuji Onki. San Francisco: Viz Communications, Inc, 2002.

Kelts, Roland. Japanamerica: How Japanese Culture Has Invaded the US. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Experience. 1979. New York: Norton, 1991.

Parks, John G. “Waiting for the End: Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial.” Critique, Vol. XIX, No. 3, 1978.

“Uzumaki.” Random House Japanese-English English-Japanese Dictionary. 1995. New York: Random House. 1997.

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.