You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

MANGA MANIA: Museum of Terrors Volume 1: Tomie

On a beautiful spring day in Japan, Mr. Tanagi  takes his high school class on a mountainside hike. Tomie, the teenage hottie he's having an affair with, threatens to tell his wife about their relationship if he doesn't marry her. Fortunately, just minutes later she angers a male classmate who is also in love with her and he pushes her off a cliff. She dies. 

What to do? Mr. Tanagi tells the female students to go on ahead, turns to his males students, and tells them to take off their clothes. Here the story does not take the direction one would expect. He wants the boys stripped to their underwear so they can cut Tomie into little pieces without getting blood on their school uniforms. Problem solved. Only the next day, Tomie shows up for class, a little late but in one piece. And evil.

Junji Ito's other horror tales have cosmic themes. A small fishing village falls under the spell of spirals. The entire world is overrun with dead fish walking out of the ocean on tiny mechanical legs. Tomie seems like a regression to more mundane, traditional horror -- I noticed one reader review calls it a Japanese version of Heathers. But Ito spins the theme of the beautiful girl who won't stay dead into a series of related tales that are creepy as all get out and wildly entertaining. 

Tomie shows her practical side

Men cannot resist Tomie, yet they are driven to kill her. Stabbing her will seldom do. More often they behead her or chop her up. Beheading her makes a certain amount of sense when she is growing a second hideous face alongside her beautiful everyday visage. But the blood that gushes into the carpet takes on a life of its own and she's back. Tossing the carpet into the rubbish heap only causes an entire crop to Tomies to sprout like so many murderous daisies. Toss her bits into a deep pool below a waterfall and her spirit lures suicidal young men to the cliffs so she can feed on their bodies. It goes on and one.

There is another volume of these stores and a batch of Japanese film versions. Judging from the packaging, some of the films slip into the softcore pinkie film category. Ito's stories, so far, are a clever blend of black comedy and grotesque horror. Men just can't resist the girl. Although they know she has regenerated herself from a severed head kept in an aquarium, two doctors have this exchange.

"What an ungodly monster!"
"You're telling me. And extremely alluring one."

In the next panel the doctor is showing Tomie into his condo. Big mistake.

Tomie shows her true nature

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