Tag Archives: Junjo Ito


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DIRECTED BY: Uncredited

FEATURING:  Bill Milsap (English dub)

PLOT: Twenty short, dreamlike horror stories from manga artist Junjo Ito, spread out over twelve episodes.

Still from junjo ito maniac japanese tales of the macabre (The Hanging Balloons)

COMMENTS: A woman’s sneering face appears in a monsoon of psychedelic mandalas, singing along to the raucous theme song as various scars and deformities flicker across her visage. A nail-chewing boy in a yellow raincoat climbs out of an abandoned refrigerator and into the vertical-hold challenged stories playing on a TV set across the alley.

Those are the opening and closing sequences of “Junjo Ito Maniac,” and they set a maniacal tone that the content they bookend rarely matches. Not that the actual stories lack for deranged imagination; any anthology containing the tale of an angelic blond salesman in a bow tie who peddles mounds of deadly, addictive ice cream to children isn’t short on creepy inventiveness. But there are two basic problems with the series. One is the animation itself, which, despite the rambunctious promise of the opening and closing numbers, often isn’t really animated. It’s usually a succession of stills where only the characters’ mouths move. Ito’s images are often eerily beautiful, but the series comes off as too cheaply produced to do them justice. The other issue is that the majority of the stories, some of which run for just over five minutes, are often inconclusive, feeling like simple statements of surreal premises rather than fleshed-out horrors. Their brevity does, perhaps, makes them more dreamlike; their economy means they tend to serve best as bedtime snacks to fuel snippets of nightmares.

The biggest exception is the one must-see episode in this collection, “Layers of Terror.” At a mere fifteen minutes, this twisted psychological parable about a mother who longs to return her child to a state of infantile dependency delivers its meaty anti-moral through a grotesquely literal (and bizarrely impossible) metaphor. Other highlights include “The Hanging Balloon,” about an unlikely apocalyptic plague of floating heads with nooses attached, and “Tomb Town,” a story that starts promisingly with a trip to a neighborhood completely overrun by tombstones. The series assays an effective variety of horror moods, from the prominent surreal horror to stories evoking the spirits of (“Library Vision”) and Charles Addams (“The Strange Hikizuri Siblings”) to ironically cruel fables (“The Bully”). Even though few of the entries are solid hits, the  diversity of textures coupled with the ultra-short format makes “Maniac” an assortment of poison bon-bons worth sharing with your best friend… or enemy.

As a bonus, the conclusion of each episode includes a few short spoken sentences of a continuing story about a man driven mad by bugs that seem to be… well, you can find out for yourself. Aside from that perk, the episodes can be watched in any order, or selectively skipped.

Junjo Ito is perhaps best known to readers here as the original author of the killer-spiral horror story adapted into the live action feature Uzumaki (2000). He’s a prolific manga storyteller in Japan, alternating between short story collections like these, longer works like “Uzumaki,” and collections featuring recurring characters (including the bewitching Tomei, who appears in one story here, and impish nail-chewing teen Soichi, who appears twice in “Maniac” and also anchors the closing segment.) “Junjo Ito: Japanese Tales of the Macabre” was created by Studi Deen, who had released a previous collection of Ito shorts in Japan, in collaboration with Netflix, who owns exclusive streaming rights.


“It’s humorous, terrifying, weird, beautiful, and disturbing all at once.”–Kate Sánchez, But Why Tho? (contemporaneous)


DIRECTED BY: Higuchinsky

FEATURING: Eriko Hatsume, Fhi Fan

PLOT:  One by one the residents of a small Japanese village become “infected” with an obsession for spirals, leading them to neglect their normal day to day lives and eventually to their odd spiral-related deaths.  Yes, you read right…spiral deaths!

Still from Spiral [Uzumaki] (2000)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Movies that achieve a coveted final place on the List need to be really very good or really very weird.  Some will be great enough to score on both counts.  Much as I love Uzumaki, I have to say it should earn a place based on the sheer quality and quantity of the weirdness on display.  Viewers who like a neatly wrapped plot will be annoyed and frustrated that the nature of what’s going wrong in the village is never really explained.  There’s a breadcrumb sprinkling of just enough hints to allow you to ponder the cause yourself: is it an ancient curse, casually malevolent demons or something worse, rooted in the double helix of the villagers’ very DNA?

COMMENTS: This should be a pretty grim film.  An apparently innocent group of villagers are led to gruesome self mutilation and picturesque suicides by a strange infection, for which there is no cure, no explanation, and from which there is no escape.  It “should” be a grim film, and yet it’s charming, quirky and downright laugh out loud funny in parts.  Based on Junji Ito’s manga of the same name, it was made and released before the conclusion of the print version was released, so viewers coming to it via the books will apparently find significant differences.  I have only read a couple of chapters of the manga and therefore cannot comment on how the two compare, but watching the film it’s tempting to think that some of the stylization of the cinematography and acting draws on the original artwork.  Burtonesque spirals are so ubiquitous throughout the film, appearing in clouds, bushes and ceiling panels that it would be a rash viewer who launched into an uzumaki drinking game.

The story centres on schoolgirl Kirie and her solemn, androgynous boyfriend Shuichi.  It’s Shuichi who first realizes that all is not well.  His father has become so obsessed with Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: SPIRAL [UZUMAKI] (2000)