The Great TOH Junji Ito Read-Off: Shiver
Please let this be a dream. I’m so hungry. I can hear my own voice calling me from outside. . .
So we’re on to another short story collection. Where Fragments of Horror felt a little flat in comparison to the rest of Ito’s work despite a few gems, Shiver is packed with stories that will crawl under your skin and raise your hackles. These tales were all hand-picked by Ito for the collection, and they come with their own individual commentary page and a scan of rough sketch pages from when Ito was working on the story.
We run the gamut from Gothic to body horror to bleak science fiction so if you love having a variety mix with your fiction then this is the collection for you.
Before we get into this, let’s have some music to set the mood:
“Used Record,” like many Ito stories explores obsession, in this case triggered by an unmarked and highly sought after acapella jazz recording of a woman scat singing that immediately captivates anyone who hears it, to the point where they’ll go to extremes just for the song.
note that manga is read from right to left . . . which is super important for this page
The title story is fittingly grotesque, and somewhat follows in the traditions of weird fiction, where a cursed object is the source of all the grotesquerie and strange events that go on. In it, a young boy can see what he assumes is a doctor who comes through the back yard he shares with his neighbors, to treat the neighbor girl Rina’s supposed illness. This illness causes her body to be riddled with holes, as if insects had burrowed deep within her. When he discovers his grandfather’s journal, he finds out the truth of Rina’s disease, and repressed memories bubble back up to the surface.
“Fashion Model” tells a spooky story about a lady who’s tall and ugly. There’s more to it than that, but the seed really is that a few young filmmakers put out a casting call for models to star in their movie project, and they choose one pretty girl to be the heroine and the creepy-looking girl to be the . . . creepy-looking girl. In both fortuitous and horribly unfortunate happenstance, it turns out there’s more to this creepy-looking model than just being ugly.
“Hanging Blimp” has maybe the biggest dose of dread out of the collection. It begins with a young high school girl who is also a prominent idol hanging herself. Soon after her death, reports of a giant floating head that looks just like hers begin coming in. And not too long after that, other heads begin appearing in the sky.
“Marionette Mansion” would be unsettling even without the possessed object narrative. It tells the tale of a fellow who grows up with a family of traveling performers, driving around the country while living on a shoestring budget and losing out on a lot of what is supposed to come with childhood. After his father finally succumbs to illness, he settles down into an apartment with his sister, reconnects with a girl he developed feelings for during one of his short stays at a school, and eventually gets contacted by his brother who had managed to get out long before him. When he goes to visit his brother . . .
The next story, disappointingly, is just a chapter from Tomie, so if you don’t mind we’re going to skip over that one for now. I promise we’ll be coming back to visit it later.
“The Long Dream” is a dark science fiction story about a man whose dreams seem to last lifetimes, and his physical body begins to respond in kind. It’s somewhat similar to The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin except instead of the dreams changing the world around him, this guy’s dreams only seem to have an effect on him. But, like in The Lathe of Heaven, the greed of the people who are supposed to take care of our dreaming fellow end up getting the best of them.
“Honored Ancestors” is about a young lady who gets lured into promising herself in marriage to a guy whose family, uh, does this:
Basically, leading back through generations, every member of the family grafts themselves to a conga-line connecting the brains of everybody, thereby keeping them alive and also severely inconveniencing themselves in terms of being able to move around.
“Greased Oil” is from the point of view of a high school girl whose father runs a yakiniku (grilled/fried meat) shop on the bottom floor of their house, but the poor ventilation makes oil stain everything in the house. On top of that, her brother is a weirdo who sneaks into the kitchen to drink oil from the bottle when he thinks no one is around.
To the surprise of no one, he begins to develop some particularly nasty acne. Things start to build up into a tense climax with the family and her brother’s instability, and, well, let me just show you.
Aside from the nine hand-picked stories in Shiver, the English edition comes with a bonus story, featuring the return of our creepy-looking model lady. And as ashamed as I am to admit something so simple legitimately scared me, “Fashion Model: Cursed Frame” was the first thing by Ito where I actually got frightened, instead of grossed out or unsettled. A girl with a phobia of being photographed except for when it’s a full-body shot applies at a modelling agency. She gets accepted on a broken promise that they’ll never give her anything but full-body shots and of course gets paired up a few times with the scary lady.
Shiver ended up ranking pretty high for me, and it seems Ito has a good handle on what to pick to showcase his own best work, with some genuine bits of dread and disgusting body horror. The only source of disappointment for me is the dedication of an entire section of the book to a chapter from Tomie, which had already been published, though I understand it was one of the stories Ito hand picked for the collection. I would definitely rank this collection highly, though, especially for someone just wanting an intro to Ito’s style and body of work.
Shiver is available in English through VIZ Media.
Banner image by Anton Oxenuk.