Junji Ito: The Man Behind The Horror

by Kalai Chik,

Master of horror, Junji Ito, made his first official US convention appearance at Crunchyroll Expo 2019 with several panels and fan experiences. After appearing at Toronto Comic Arts Festival in early May and winning an Eisner Award for Frankenstein in late July, Junji Ito's timely appearance was met with a full crowd on first day of the convention. For those who couldn't make it to his panels, CRX hosted an art gallery with his original drafts from his short stories and series such as Uzumaki and Tomie.

During this panel, Ito began to do a live drawing of Tomie coming out from a wall with several other Tomie faces coming out behind her. Although it's unclear in what capacity the drawing would be used, Ito speculated that a colored version might be included as a future cover of the Nemuki+ magazine or as an extra item for purchasing his manga.

He began the panel by answering questions covering his childhood and how he got into drawing horror manga. Although he mentioned it was difficult for him to draw and talk at the same time, he did his best to balance the two. At the end of the panel was a major announcement for the Uzumaki anime.

Moderator: You've been drawing for over 30 years. Did you draw horror from the beginning or were there other types of stories?

Junji Ito: From the age of 5, I began drawing for fun. How I got into manga was that I read Kazuo Umezu's horror manga. I looked at other manga, but it really didn't interest me.

Moderator: Have you ever had the opportunity to meet or work with Umezu?

Junji Ito: I received a manga award, of which Kazuo Umezu was a judge. That helped start my career. About 10 years ago, much later after I received it, was the first time I met him in person. Later on, I'd meet him again when was directing a movie called Mother, and he approached me to do the manga adaptation of it.

Moderator: What scared you when you were a child, since that seems to be where you've drawn inspiration for your stories?

Junji Ito: Ghosts scared me a lot, and I'd watch it on TV programs. I would watch a TV program about taking pictures with ghosts in them. In my hometown, I would be so scared to go to the restroom. You'd have to go through an underground passage to get to the bathroom, and nearby there was a storage closet full of old furniture. I couldn't go alone and always had to go with someone.

Moderator: Who are some of your inspirations?

Junji Ito: Lovecraft.

Moderator: What are some of the differences between Western and Japanese horror? In Western horror, often the characters who don't get hurt are the ones who haven't done anything wrong. However, in Japanese horror, terrible things happen to the main characters regardless if they've done nothing wrong.

Junji Ito: In 1990 there was a company called J-Horror that started making movies like you've described, where a character that hasn't done anything wrong keeps getting attacked. In that theme, The Ring and The Grudge is similar to that. There's a famous story in Japan called Yotsuya Kaidan (Yotsuya Ghost Stories), where a woman is killed by the main character and she takes revenge for his betrayal. Sometimes there are stories where victims are also punished for their bad deeds. When J-Horror came out, I think they were trying new things with this genre.

Moderator: On the other side, you've written something other than horror, which is Cat Diary: Yon & Mu. Have you considered doing more non-horror stories?

Junji Ito: In terms of the Cat Diary, I just had cats that were very interesting. One of the cats had something that resembled skull marks on its fur, and that inspired me to write the book. The cats were the ones who gave me the idea for the whole thing. I hope I can find something else that can give me inspiration to draw more. I've been drawing horror manga for so long, and I've been running out of ideas. Hopefully, I can be inspired again soon. For a different genre, I'd love to do a love-comedy. I think I can write rom-coms and be good at it. Please buy it if I do.

Moderator: What's a typical day like for drawing your manga?

Junji Ito: Usually I'd wake up around 9AM, then I'll go to the living room and eat breakfast that my wife makes. I'll read the newspaper, wash the dishes, and then start work. I don't eat lunch, and later I'll look at my computer. Sometimes I don't feel like working so I'll watch YouTube videos. Next thing you know it's evening. In the evening, my mother-in-law makes bento for me. Afterwards, I'll go visit my children at my wife's hometown, which is only a bike ride away. When I come back home, I work more and then go take a bath. 2am - 3am is when I go to sleep. That's my day! Sorry, my life is kind of boring.

Moderator: Speaking of your family, in Cat Diaries you mentioned that early in your career, you had your mother, your sister, and then your wife helped you as assistants. Do they still do that for you today?

Junji Ito: My mother and sister helped me when I was living in Gifu, my hometown. When you're hiring someone, it's easiest to work with someone you know, which were my mom and my sister. As for my wife, she was busy with her own work after a while so she wasn't able to help me with the inking process after that. When we moved to my wife's hometown in Chiba, she was raising our kids, and my mom, along with my sister, were too far to help. A lot of the inking I've had to do myself since everyone is busy.

Moderator: How many years did you spend drawing manga and working in dentistry?

Junji Ito: I worked as a dental technician for six years and balanced the two jobs (manga and dentistry) for three years.

Moderator: Several of your works have been adapted for anime and live-action, but how involved are you with the process?

Junji Ito: Most of the time for live-action I'll check the script and give them my input through notes. In terms of the anime adaptations, I'd do the same for the script, and check the artwork they send to me. So mostly touch ups and checks.

Moderator: The most recent anime series was the Junji Ito Collection. How did you feel about it and do you think there'll be a second season?

Junji Ito: The director, Shinobu Tagashira, really loved the original material and wanted to keep the anime as true to the manga as possible. I was really happy with the end product, and that it didn't stray from my work. I felt some of the stories were better than my original. At the moment, there are no plans for a second season. If you guys support a season two, maybe it'll happen in the future.

Moderator: Recently, there was an American adaptation of Tomie in the works. Can you tell us anything about that?

Junji Ito: I'm really hopeful for Alexandre Aja to be working on the adaptation. The format will be a short story drama, from what I've heard. I haven't received a script, but I look forward to it.

Moderator: You recently released an artbook, Igyo Sekai, which was released at your art exhibition in Tokyo. Is there a plan to release it in the US?

Junji Ito: In terms of the artbook, it was the first time I had collected works so I was happy about that. I talked to a distribution rights group, and I'm happy to say that will be published in the US. I don't have any idea of when it'll be released, but please support it.

Moderator: What are your thoughts on your art exhibits in general and how do you feel about the one here at CRX?

Junji Ito: Personally, I haven't seen the exhibit here just yet, but I look forward to it. About the it, when I was asked about what the theme should be I was given three themes. One was cats, second was scary man, and third was a beautiful lady. Based on that, I drew the artwork based on what I wanted for the exhibit. I'm really excited for people to see originals from my manga: you can see the small details, edits, as well as mistakes I made.

Moderator: What manga are you working on these days? What can we expect next?

Junji Ito: Right now, in Japan I'm working with a magazine called Nemuki+ on a story called Travelogue of the Succubus (Muma no Kikou). Just recently it's been collected into tankobon form, and should be released soon.

Closing off the panel was a surprise announcement and teaser for the four-part anime adaptation of Uzumaki, which will air on Toonami in the United States ahead of Japan. Production I.G’s US President, Maki Terashima-Furuta came on stage to share the news that Production I.G. is handling the mini-series, and the teaser that was only finished that morning. Due to the genre and nature of the series, Maki mentioned that the production staff prayed at a shrine to ask for a blessing so that the production of Uzumaki would go smoothly without any accidents.

Although there's been no announcement of an exact release date, Adult Swim uploaded the teaser trailer, and a Twitter account for the Uzumaki anime has now gone live.

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