October is waning and with it go daylight, the green in the leaves, and the lives of many, many pumpkins. This month I offer you a taste of this country’s Halloween-appropriate lore: one ghost-themed, one horror/suspense, and one grotesque enough to get your spine tingling.
Rocky Water Horror Show
Dark Water Suzuki Koji
Translated by Glynne Walley
282 pp., New York: Vertical, Inc.
There’s something inherently terrifying about the dark. Even in the setting of your own home, the walls bend, corners grow sharper, every hollow expands to accommodate some evil presence. It’s the overwhelming power of what you can’t see, when you can’t certify if a ghost or killer is free, that sucks the phlegm right out of your throat.
In Dark Water, The Ring trilogy creator Koji Suzuki builds seven short horror stories—or eight, if you count the bisected prologue and epilogue—around one of our greatest unknown expanses: water. And like water (if I may humor my weakness for banality), the deeper the stories go, the darker they get.
In deep water is where Suzuki fits; what keeps the murderous anecdotes afloat is an intimacy between Suzuki and his element, how the law of the sea, subterranean lakes and water supply systems is so casually laid out in the narratives of sailors, spelunkers, natural scientists as to ground these aquatic thrillers in realism.
Stephen King, to whom Suzuki is often compared, wrote in The Shining, “Sometimes human places create inhuman monsters.” In this vein, Suzuki terrifies without the aid of any supernatural or gross-out tricks. It is the very humanness of the characters and the genuineness of their intentions that is, after all is said and dead, terrifying. You’re next.
Recommended stories: The Hold, Watercolors, Prologue/Epilogue
The Ghosts of Edo
Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan Lafcadio Hearn
Illustrated by Fujita Yasumasa
159 pp., New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
Talk about ghost stories and Japan will come up. But talk about Japanese mythology and you’re likely to hear about supernatural-but-cute woodland creatures (tanuki and the like), boy-warriors sprung from peaches (Momotaro), or magic mirrors (of the oldest extant Japanese writing, Kojiki, detailing Japan’s creation).
Allow me to introduce you to Kwaidan.
Surely many of you know it already, but among you are far more movie-watchers than story-readers. It was in the stories that the spectral forms and eerie atmospheres of the Oscar-winning films were created. The stories are where samurai ghosts, flesh eaters, Nukekubi (by-day normal humans whose heads detach and hunt human prey by night) came to life as the realization of fatalistic Japanese beliefs. Buddhism and its tenets of after-life vengeance and karmic retribution in action.
In seventeen stories we meet the Bloody Marys of America, Spring Heeled Jacks of England—the inhumanly serene but merciless Yuki-onna who manifests on snowy nights, the greedy priest reborn as Jikininki who devours fresh corpses with snake-like grace. So, too, are there “strange tales.” These include some matter-of-fact introductions to exorcism rituals, a few anecdotal one-pagers, and three edifying but funny chapters about bugs, penned by Hearn himself. For study or a spook, or for costumes ideas a few steps up from witch or vampire, call on Kwaidan.
Recommended stories: The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi, Diplomacy, Mosquitoes
Uzumaki Ito Kenji
Translated by Oniki Yuji
205 pp., San Francisco: VIZ Media
The best way to overcome your fears is to face them. It is in this spirit that I opened my first manga, following the black and white stills from right to left, reading by text bubble. As for triumphing over my fear—that I may, after decades of saying otherwise, actually like manga—well, there are two more volumes to end the Spiral into Horror series I’ll have to read before I can definitively say anything…
In the Japanese town of Kurozu-cho, bound by fog and pitted in the center by a pond called Dragonfly, the townspeople are plagued by hypnotic shapes. Uzumaki. Spirals. One man, father of our male protagonist Shuichi, dedicates a room to his beloved spirals: conches, snail shells, mosquito repellent incense, scotch tape. They’re every town items, but in Kurozu-cho, they’re maddening.
Shuichi’s best friend Kirie is the only one who can keep her head straight around spirals, and so it is from her perspective we watch her friends and family get sucked into the curse. Even I felt a little infected by that helical figure on the last page.
Be it a characteristic of the manga genre or of Oniki himself, the text is secondary to the illustrations; they’re polished when they need to be, but are by and large just awesomely gruesome, hatched and textured so as to crawl up and out of the page. This is one to get you into the Halloween spirit, though I warn you, you may never look at whirly-pops or licorice wheels the same way again).