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Tomie 1: The Junji Ito Horror Comic Collection
translator - Alex Mizuno
ComicsOne paperback $9.95
review by Amy Harlib
Junji Ito (born 1963), a Kazuo Umezu award-winning creator of Japanese horror manga (comics), well-known for his Uzumaki series recently made into a film [Uzumaki] that has gained quite a cult following in the USA, now gets another cycle of stories translated and published in compact trade paperback format for English-reading audiences.
Tomie 1 (of three volumes so far published in the US), contains six interconnected stories all set in contemporary Japan and focused on the eponymous character, high school teenager Tomie who, as the publisher's blurb states: "is the girl you wish you could forget. She is the one you shouldn't have touched, shouldn't have smiled at, shouldn't have made mad. She is quite lovely and you may love her to death. You may kill her. She will come back to life. You try to destroy her completely. It won't work."
Reiko, a female classmate of Tomie's, narrates the first tale, Tomie. She recalls that her titular friend was discovered dead, not all the pieces of her body found. While the teacher, Mr Takagi concluded speaking to the class about accepting the painful tragedy of Tomie's death and that she is gone forever, Tomie herself makes an entrance apologising for her tardiness. Now though, Tomie seems... different and, to make things more troubling, her infatuation with Mr Takagi creates turmoil that leads to her death (again) on a class excursion to a local park. There, in a chilling sequence of depictions made more so by the dialogue and the corpse not being shown except for the blood splatters, the teacher persuades the class to assist him in the incriminating body's dismemberment and disposal of the remains. Not surprisingly, Tomie does not stay deceased for long.
Photograph and Kiss concerns Tomie's moral objections to her classmate Tsukiko taking pictures of the cutest guys and then selling her work to their female admirers. How Tomie recruits some helpers to put a stop to the shutterbug leads to gruesomely bizarre consequences leaving the helpers' and the rather likeable picture-taker's lives changed forever. It also leads to Tomie getting killed and resurrecting in a fiendishly peculiar manner.
Mansion offers a believable rationale explaining how Tomie came to acquire her strange resurrecting powers. She reunites with Tsukiko now moved to a new town, persuading the understandably fearful acquaintance that she can take her to the location of a male classmate gone missing in the previous story. The place in question turns out to be the huge titular home where Tomie now dominates an old man and his daughter, with whom she has a surprising connection, and where the missing lad meets a terrible fate and from where Tsukiko barely manages to escape and survive.
Revenge goes in a new direction where three male mountain climbers discover Tomie in a deceptively helpless state. Their rescue goes horribly awry while Tomie manipulates her would-be saviours into becoming jealous of each other while they vie for her attention with deadly results that leave one shocked climber alive facing Tomie and regretting it.
Finally, The Basin Of The Waterfall depicts a mysterious travelling salesman venturing into a remote rural village where he attempts to sell some very odd seeds. When his offerings fail to attract any customers and the hostile residents chase the vendor out of town, his merchandise gets thrown into a nearby stream while he flees. The submerged stuff eventually grows into beautiful, at first aquatic, young females who lure some of the local young men to their deaths. But when no more prey is forthcoming, what happens next is eerie and unexpected.
Tomie 1 offers a fine, representative sampling of Junji Ito's style of horror manga featuring highly skilled black and white art of detailed line work, grey tones and solid black shadings balanced nicely on the pages. Although the panel layout is not wildly innovative, it smoothly tells the stories. The character design realistically delineates distinct personalities in a pleasing style that refreshingly lacks certain highly stylised manga conventions (exaggerated, huge eyes, excessively triangular faces and tiny mouths that annoy me personally). Paradoxically, the beautiful, clear, intricate rendering of the art depicting scenes of grotesquery, gore and bizarre often-violent scenes and extreme emotion makes the horror believable.
Ito achieves his emotional impact by combining gross-outs with psychological suspense and the perennial but always effective genre technique of portraying dreadful things happening to decent people. His stories generally follow a pattern in which he exposes the monstrous hidden in the mundanity of life, building tension by starting out in a humdrum fashion and then introducing something outrageous. In these particular cases, the shocker is Tomie's uncanny ability to revivify in weird and often bizarre ways from any part of her body (whether left whole or in pieces) after she has been killed and then she wreaks vengeful havoc. The riveting result makes the readers squirm along with the characters during the fictional creations' attempts to cope with whatever suffering has been inflicted upon them before the horror becomes overwhelming. Ito's protagonists, (typical of many in Japanese comics), seldom emerge from their ordeals unscathed if they survive at all, the events they experience getting minimal rationalisation for the author strives for maximum visceral and disturbing impact and succeeds.
The Tomie stories also fascinate in the way they exemplify a distinctly Japanese cultural variation of a prevalent pan-Asian and even worldwide theme that underlies the ubiquitous patriarchal, male chauvinistic domination of society that still prevails despite all the efforts of the feminist movements. This is the 'woman as monster' plot device that illustrates the age-old male fear of women - women's power to create life out of their bodies. Although men have sought for millennia to control and dominate women for their procreative ability, objectifying them and much worse in the process, the resulting female anger and resentment (whether hidden or open), generates a negative atmosphere that, even though it is usually subliminal for the sake of propriety, always represents a threat. That men sense this tension and magnify it into monstrous proportions gets well illustrated in Junji Ito's Tomie tales. Thus, these yarns have value not just for their perversely entertaining thrills and for the fine quality of the artwork, but for the way they reveal how deeply covert and basic aspects and assumptions about life and relationships can create horrific consequences. Ito's horror manga ranks among the best of its genre.
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