This is the full version of Junji Ito’s interview and the entire set of questions and answers I sent to him that you all were able to read in October’s second Fan Service column Why Horror Fans Love Being Scared. I’ve been a Junji Ito fan from the moment that I learned that horror manga existed and it was an incredible honor to interview him!
I’d like to thank Ito-sensei for answering my questions and sharing his insight! I’d also like to thank Chantelle and VIZ for making this happen as well as for giving me permission to share the interview in full! Please go treat yourself to Sensor after you read the full interview, and of course, go shout about it on social media!
You’ve been working in horror for over thirty years, with new fans coming to your work every year thanks to international translations like your Frankenstein adaptation and Sensor. Do you think of your work as “timeless” and if so, what do you believe contributes to that feeling in your work?
Thanks to the well thought out binding and translation in America, I’m very happy and thankful so many people have read my work. It’s true that I’ve always intended for my work to be timeless. To do that, I don’t rush my process and schedule accordingly, giving myself enough time so I don’t create anything sub-standard and being careful to maintain high-quality work. I constantly rework my ideas I throw out and am very conscious about not to repeating anything I’ve already created. I think the variety in my works is one of the reasons I still have so many readers today.
Tomie is a character who is truly immortal – not just in the stories she’s in, but in the way she lives on in readers’ minds decades after you first created her. Have there been any fan responses that stand out to you about Tomie over the years – especially from female fans?
Tomie is arrogant, a liar, and a monster, yet she’s very beautiful and always has an air of freedom. I found that many female readers connected with the latter qualities. I had fans saying “I want to be like Tomie” which, at first, I thought was a little odd, but I could understand that perspective too. Regardless of the era, I think beauty and freedom are valuable qualities. I see fans on social media cosplaying as her, so it makes me happy as the creator.
You use different horror themes in your work like cosmic horror, body horror, and existentialist fears. What draws you to these themes in your work? Does what you’re afraid of in real life influence your art?
I’ve always loved sci-fi and have always been drawn to situations that would be impossible in real life. It’s fun to be in a different world than our own. HP Lovecraft has had an influence on my sci-fi, space horror stories. Actually, when I was a high schooler, I was in a remote village in Nagano prefecture looking up at the starry sky when I felt afraid that I was going to be swallowed up by the night sky. Experiences like that have had an influence on my work. As far as body horror, I’m curious about the human body, so I think I’ve created more and more body horror stories over time. I also think the human body which contains the complex human heart [note: not anatomical heart but the emotional heart] is scary. I don’t have fear of an animal’s body. I don’t think I’ve studied existential fears enough to answer, but when I was young, I was thinking about my ‘self’ and became afraid. I’m not sure if it’s because of that, but I’m not very good at watching myself in media and I hate listening to my own voice [ie in interviews] too. I think that’s why I often write manga with the “Doppelganger” theme where a character sees another one of themselves. In my own life, I will occasionally feel fear interacting with other people when I realize how scary the human heart is and I will often put those experiences in to my work.
Over your time creating such intricate and disturbing works of horror, you’ve had millions of fans who rush to pick up your latest work. Can you share your thoughts on how horror connects us across time and space? Why do you think people enjoy being so frightened that we pay for the pleasure of terror?
There’s a phrase “forbidden fruit is the sweetest.” To protect oneself from something scary, by instinct, there’s a psychology of wanting to investigate that ‘something.’ I think that’s part of the psychology of those who are drawn to the horror genre. However, horror is a pseudo-experience compared to something physically dangerous happening to you, so that accompanying sense of safety/security leads to enjoyment, entertainment, and joy and people are drawn to that entertaining aspect of horror.
Again, please go (re) familiarize yourself with everything Ito-sensei has done and scare yourself silly this Halloween!