We all want a good scary story now and then and horror mangaka Junji Ito has written some of the best ones. He has penned notable titles such as Tomie, the story of an immortal girl who drives her admirers to madness and Gyo a twisting tale of a town’s obsession with spirals. Ito is also a successful short story writer and is known for not taking himself too seriously, a trait exemplified in Itou Junji No Neko Nikki: Yon and Mu, a parody about him and his wife and their two cats.
Honey's Anime Exclusive Interview with Junji Ito
What are the most important elements of a horror story?
I think the mood or atmosphere is very important. I feel for manga the story is very important but the first thing to focus on there is the art. So, I use art to create the atmosphere.
You recently received an Eisner Award the comic industries equivalent of an Oscar for your manga adaptation of Frankenstein. What was your approach to adapting such a classic story?
I knew the story from the old school movie starring Boris Karloff in 1931. But when I did more research the story seemed very scientific and I wanted to bring that out in the manga. I saw the 1994 Kenneth Branagh film version of the story after creating the manga and thought it took a similar approach.
Are there any other classics you’d like to adapt?
I would've liked to adapt some works by H.P. Lovecraft. But I saw a collection by an artist Tanabe Gou and reconsidered because I don’t think I could do it as well as he did.
You’ve made some pretty scary stories dealing with cats. Is there another cute creature that you’d like to make a scary story about? How do you turn something cute into something menacing?
I’m not good at drawing animals. I had cats at home, so they were easy to study, and it made it easy to draw for me. My wife has a pet lizard at the moment, but I don’t think it would work because it’s not very cute.
Is there another kind of genre you’d like to tackle?
I would like to try comedy. I do, however, think keeping up with the jokes would be difficult for me. I would also like to try doing a love-comedy but think that might be challenging for me as well.
Do you start with the visual elements or the plot when you are starting a new work?
I tend to develop the story around the visual elements. I have an image and think about what an interesting plot is I can make around this image. I sometimes have an image of the climax scene in my head and work from there. I find it harder to create visuals for a plot than a plot from visuals.
Have you ever think of lending your talent to game creation?
I’m not much of a gamer myself, my manga takes up a lot of my time. I know if I did gaming as a hobby I’d get hooked and my manga would suffer. So, I haven’t thought about doing anything about gaming.
How do you feel when your works are adapted in other mediums?
I love movies and films. I’d love to work on movies but don’t have time. I do think that my work is easily adapted to film because when I write I visualize it that way. When my work becomes a movie I am really, really happy.
Is there anything from your childhood that has inspired your works?
I grew up near Nagano. The town had a lot of narrow roads and alleyways and they would make you feel like you are walking in a maze. It was a great place for hid and seek. We also had an abandoned hospital and think along with the maze that is reflected in my manga.
You are an inspiration to a lot of other creators. How does being such an influence on younger talent make you feel? Are you ever surprised by who admires your work?
I am always surprised when I see other programs, like Steven Universe, pay homage to my work. I remember being shocked that 20 years ago Guillermo del Toro said he was a big fan and wanted to see me. We just couldn’t work the schedules out and miss the opportunity to meet.
How do you decide on a “good” or “bad” ending for your characters?
I find that if it’s a shorter story that it’s okay to have a bad ending. If it is a long story a good ending is preferable because the audience gets more invested in the characters. I think I’m better with the shorter stories and the bad endings for the characters.
You are working on a new work based on the 1948 masterpiece No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. Why did you choose this work?
I think to make a good adaptation you need the work to click with you. I could feel sympathy for the characters. You need to find a connection. I think whenever you as the creator can feel a connection with the story you can really make great work.
How do you feel knowing that your manga is being read in the United States and all over the world?
It’s a dream to know my works are being read in the United States.
We give our deepest thanks to Junji Ito-sensei for his time. We know a mangaka is often working on deadlines and taking the time to meet fans and reporters isn’t always easy. The stories of the horror genre may not be for everyone but the visuals that Junji Ito creates are definitely art. We recommend, even if you are not into horror, giving Junji Ito’s manga or the anime adaptations a chance. We’d also like to thank the other members of the press corp at Crunchyroll Expo for their contributions to the interview.
Author: Zeke Changuris
I’m a journalist, writer, photographer, video producer, social media manager and above all a storyteller. I’m located on the east coast of the United States but travel the world with the love of my life. I’ve been a nerd since birth with a love of history and science. I fell in love with anime, watching ROBOTECH and Venus Wars in the 80s when our only source was secondhand VHS dubs. A crazy new thing called the internet changed that, giving me access to new and amazing anime every day. I love to write for work and pleasure. I’m living the dream of every kid, getting paid to watch anime and loving every subtitled line.