Spoiler Warning: The following article features spoilers for Town Without Streets and The Groaning Drain, alongside images from various other Junji Ito short stories.
As much as people discuss the body horror aspect of Ito’s work, far less attention is given to the psychological aspect of his stories.
Compared to his extensive library of body horror stories, Ito has done far fewer stories dedicated entirely to psychological horror. Those few that he has done, however, stand out as unique and interesting breaks from his usual format. One prime example of this being Town Without Streets, a story which seeks to personify social anxiety through justified fears of being watched. The main character escapes from a family that spies on her and memories of a boy sneaking into her room, only to find herself in a town where privacy is a myth and people’s homes are used as passageways.
What makes Ito’s psychological horror so interesting, and separates it from the rest of his work, is how it often relies on the loss of one’s sense of security and self. Many stories prey on the feelings of anxiety caused by not feeling like you are in control of things, or in some cases, not even in control of your own body. One example of this can be seen in The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel, in which the protagonist finds himself returning to a tunnel despite knowing he has no desire to do so.
Even without supernatural forces, however, Ito perfectly captures the feeling of losing one’s sense of self and ability to keep a situation in check. This is best seen in the story The Human Chair, in which a man who live inside of an armchair and sends letters to the owner of the armchair, claiming they are “short stories.” As the story continues, the writer begins to realize how little control she has over her own life and how powerless she feels about the situation.
Ito’s psychological horror sometimes even permeates into his body horror stories, such as in The Groaning Drain. The mother in this story is shown to be obsessed with order, cleanliness, and control, displaying symptoms commonly associated with OCPD (not to be confused with OCD). She rarely leaves her house and spends every waking moment cleaning it, she insists that her daughters take a bath whenever they get home, and she throws a fit at anyone who dirties her immaculately-kept home. Her obsessions bite her near the end, however, when she becomes so obsessed with trying to clean blood off her arms that she begins tearing her own skin off.
Compared to his catalog of Body Horror, Ito does far fewer pure psychological horror works. The few he does, however, stand out among the throngs of gorefests and demonstrate how to really get into your audience’s heads and unsettle them.
Next up: Ito & Comedy
Image 1: Town Without Streets
Image 2: The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel
Image 3: The Human Chair
Image 4: The Groaning Drain
None of the stories cited in this article have been localized. However, translations can be easily found online. If you wish to support the artist and continued releases of his work in English, please see the list from part 1 of this series.
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