Junji Ito, the cat ear lover, the Beatles fan and the master of horror manga, is one of the most popular authors of the genre from Japan in our region.
Thanks to his stories based on everyday events, with supernatural elements and that send the protagonists to a certain and painful death, those who enjoy terror have found a home among the pages of his works.
Of course, behind someone with an enormous passion for horror, there must be something that drives him, that makes him the man we know today and that is exactly what we propose to reveal.
A peculiar childhood
Childhood is one of the most important stages of our life, it is capable of marking us for better or for worse and for artists it is mainly crucial, since that is where many of their ideas come from.
The case of Ito is a clear example of this, since at 5 years of age and living in a small town in Gifu prefecture, she knows horror manga, thanks to the fact that her older sisters were fans of the works of Kazuo Umezu.
Umezu is considered the father of horror, with stories whose illustrations of precise strokes, accompanied by a touch of comedy as with ‘The mummy nun’ inspired the little future author for the rest of his life.
The influence is such that in Ito’s drawing style you can see today that touch that distinguished Umezu despite being more refined, but we are getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s go to the first steps of mangaka.
Surrounded by horror without context
Putting ourselves in the shoes of such a young child is difficult, after all, very few remember what they were passionate about at 5 years old, but for Ito his north was so clear that he began to explore it from a young age.
Since she did not know about weekly publications, her only contact with her hobby was the compilation volumes that her sisters bought and the wait between them was not easy.
This thirst to continue filling his days with horror led him to create his own manga based on the stories at hand, as a way to read to himself how the plot would continue.
This he did not only with the works of Kazuo, he was joined by the manga of authors such as Hideshi Hino, Yasutaka Tsutsui, and as well as the best known western author in the genre HP Lovecraft, each of them leaving an indelible mark.
Being just a child, he focused on what would define his style to this day, portraying everyday events relying on a supernatural aesthetic and at times grotesque.
The foundations of your skill
Ito has faithfully portrayed his growing years and his passion for artists like Kazuo in his works, but despite this, the current mangaka did not take the route that anyone would expect in his 20s.
Rather than travel to Tokyo and try his hand at manga, Ito decided to study dentistry, successfully graduating and even practicing for at least 3 years, before deciding to try his hand at his true calling.
Although he did not jump directly into his career as an illustrator, the author absorbed everything he could to benefit what was then just a hobby, taking advantage of anatomy classes to draw more and more real people in his stories.
We cannot forget that the management of the equipment and the implementation of orthodontics was also a great factor in his career, and he commented this in an interview:
“I think the most unusual thing that I learned as a dentist, and that I carry with me now, is how to modify my sleeve making tools to fit my hands correctly and to be easier for me to use.”
A golden opportunity
What seemed like it would end up as just a part-time hobby took a 180-degree turn in 1987, the year Ito discovered that his hero, Kazuo Umezu, would be one of the judges for the Kazuo Umezu Prize, the equivalent of the award. honorific of Osamu Tezuka from the world of horror.
To the competition he sends the manga that will shoot him to fame, the one shot that gave life to ‘Tomie’, a story that tells the life of a beautiful immortal teenager capable of manipulating everyone with whom she comes into contact.
The problem, or rather the center of the plot, is that eventually those who are driven to madness will end up murdering her in the most grotesque ways, after which Tomie comes back to life.
The manga is based on the death of one of Ito’s classmates in his childhood, who after passing away, the author hoped would eventually return.
The play is so popular in Japan that 9 live action films have been made to date that portray Tomie’s interactions with different characters. A masterpiece that will continue to expand thanks to the nature of its protagonist.
Control of the spirals
Although ‘Tomie’ is a manga that is difficult to beat even for the author, in 1998 he surprised everyone with ‘Uzumaki’, a work that continued to demonstrate Ito’s passion for deforming bodies as the basis of horror.
In the story, we move to a small town where all its inhabitants live next to each other, secrets do not exist within walls and to this is added a strange curse.
The work itself tells us of Ito’s fear of being constantly watched, just as it provided a light to his taste for Lovecraft, by creating landscapes and settings inspired by his works.
“Growing up in a place like that, even if it was my hometown, it didn’t allow me to feel comfortable, so I’ve probably always been afraid of it. This is certainly reflected in my works ”.
With an atmosphere that oppresses the chest and the presence of spirals throughout the town and its inhabitants, in the peculiar work its protagonists do whatever is necessary to cover their bodies and those of others with this form.
A work that demonstrated Ito’s ability to take physical horror to a new level, from which you will not be able to look away once you begin to see the spirals.
The creatures of the ocean go for you
With two previous works, we can see how the author is dedicated to writing about personal fears and with his third manga things are not different, leading us to the horrors of those who inhabit the sea.
This particular fear was triggered by Steven Spilberg’s film, ‘Jaws’, which showed us the overwhelming force and brutality of sharks, as well as one of the most recognized soundtracks in cinema.
For Ito, the idea that a shark is terrifying can only be sustained as long as they stay in the water, so on his sleeve ‘Gyo’, he gave the sea creatures metal legs with which to surface.
While injecting a bit of comedy into the plot, just like his teacher Umezu did, ‘Gyo’ proved to be an important piece for Ito’s future projects.
Cats take over the house
During the following years, Ito published a large number of short and terrifying stories, but the truth is that while they are good on their own, one of his most striking works would arrive in 2009 with ‘Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu’.
It is here that his love for cats is revealed, which he imbues in a story that stars his recently adopted cats, Yon and Mu, his wife and Ito himself.
The play is a visual spectacle of horror, with distorted versions of the protagonists, terrifying visits to the sandbox that was classified as a day-to-day work for the couple.
The mixture of an ordinary day in the mangaka’s home with the gloomy illustrations, gives the story a calm inflection accompanied by dissonant illustrations that make it work.
More works and inspiration
While Ito has remained on a firm track and well on his way up his sleeves, perhaps the most talked about of his career are anime adaptations, which tend not to cause the same impact as stories on paper.
Due to its style and the dynamism of its drawings, something happens in the process of giving it color and movement that many times do not hit the mark despite being well done.
‘Junji Ito Collection’ is his most celebrated adaptation to date, which brought together several short stories in a single season, but it is possible that in the future we will have a due opponent.
The Toonami team is currently working with the author to make the adaptation of ‘Uzumaki’ and although they have taken their time, the truth is that it is one of the most interesting proposals to date.
Rather than color the work, the team plans to animate the entire anime in black and white, preserving Ito’s illustrations and thus leaving intact the ghostly and hopeless setting that is perceived throughout the manga.
Anyone with talent must inspire
In the area of inspiration, Ito has gotten the ‘Diablo’ team to admit that in their last game they used their works to provide the unique touch they needed, but things do not stop there.
Although Blizzard never communicated directly with the mangaka, who did do so were Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro to include him in the team of ‘Silent Hills’.
Although we all know that things did not progress in their development, both Ito and we were left with the idea that somewhere in time these three great characters met twice for lunch together.
From now on, only Ito can know what he holds for his career, which to this day continues to draw and produce content that every horror reader must fully soak up.
What did you think of the life and works of Junji Ito? Tell us in the comments.