Just in time for Halloween comes Mimi’s Tales of Terror, nine frightful tales illustrated by the manga maestro himself, Junji Ito, and adapted from the original Japanese urban tales collected by Hirokatsu Kihara and Ichiro Nakayama’s Shin Mimibukuro (New Earmuffs), a book that’s impossible for Japanese fans to find, let alone English readers. A version of Ito’s adaptation was originally published back in 2002 as Mimi no Kaidan Kanzenban (Mimi’s Ghost Stories), though like Kihara and Nakayama’s original, good luck finding a copy these days.
This updated English translation (by Jocelyne Allen) from Viz Media includes all six stories plus a few additions for added value. It’s similar to Shigeru Mizuki’s fantastic adaptation of Kunio Yanagita’s Tono Monogatari, perhaps the single-best volume of collected Japanese myths and legends, only the stories included here are billed as “true”, because they have to be. The best horror tales usually are. Whether they actually happened or not doesn’t matter so much.
As with so many of Ito’s best anthology collections there’s not much in the way of actual continuity as Mimi’s Tales of Terror stitches a half dozen loosely connected tales around the hapless Mimi (think Tomie, only less vicious) as she continually finds herself surrounded by ghosts, spirits, bodies, and other general spookiness. She’s either cursed or just supremely unlucky, but either way there’s bound to be something here that dedicated Juji Ito fans will enjoy.
“On the Utility Pole” is a short but memorable opener where Mimi spots a mysterious hag perched on top of the promised utility pole, and not much else. If nothing else, at least we get another really creepy face rendered as only Ito can render them.
I suspect “The Woman Next Door” may become most readers’ favorite of the bunch, not just because it rehashes a popular theme in Ito’s work (creepy neighbors terrorizing neighbors), but the visual presentation of its antagonist has become a popular theme across manga, anime, and even videogames. Fans love creepy women towering above them, and this one delivers just that.
Mimi is living in a cruddy apartment with paper thin walls that do little to drown out the noise of her neighbors. One of which is a mysterious lady clad entirely in black and wearing a mask to hide her face, and appears at different times to be different sizes. A chance encounter between Mimi and the lady reveals not all her body parts are flesh, giving her Inspector Gadget-like abilities to extend her limbs. When Mimi is caught spying on the telescoping stranger she’s quickly attacked in her own apartment in crazy ways only possible in a Junji Ito story.
“Rustling in the Grass” is another short but shocking snippet that evokes Japan’s infamous Aokigahara, aka “suicide forest”, where Mimi and a friend are enjoying a hike when they come across the decaying body of a woman who appears to have committed suicide by hanging. Upon closer inspection she appears worse than they expected, and much grosser.
“Grave Placement” is my favorite of the included tales, not just because it’s the most ambitious and lavishly illustrated of the bunch (which it is), but also because of how truly bonkers and original it is. Soon after moving into a nice apartment with good lighting and reasonable rent, Mimi discovers why: its backyard is a huge cemetery. She hears strange sounds coming from the area at night, then sees even stranger lights between the stones. It’s not long before she spots her neighbor, a speedo-wearing bodybuilder, turning the grave markers in the dead of night while striking poses, seemingly oblivious to what he’s doing. Things only get weirder from there, aided by some of the best artwork in the collection.
“Seashore” is bound to be another favorite, using the familiar setup where a group of horny friends visit a seaside resort for a little surfing and relaxing. When Mimi spots a decaying humanoid creature emerge from the sea nobody believes her, but the gang soon learns the beach harbors an unsettling secret: it’s haunted by the spirits of those who’ve died there, the waves exerting a mysterious pull over those who visit. This is another longform story that earns the page count.
“Just the Two of Us” contains some of the most disturbing imagery in the collection, Ito’s visuals working overtime to elevate an otherwise predictable tale into something more. When Mimi returns to her hometown she discovers a house that may be haunted by the specter of a young mom who committed suicide by self-immolating herself. The spirit leaves sooty footprints on the floor – and on the body of her surviving daughter. The only solution is to call a priest and hope he’s able to purge the spirit from the home before it’s too late.
“Scarlet Circle” has Mimi breaking up with her boyfriend after they argue over the authenticity of the supernatural. A friend shows Mimi a creepy old house that was being demolished when a mysterious hidden room was discovered under the kitchen. Only the room has nothing, save for a blotchy red circle on the wall, and anyone who attempted to spend the night inside its walls disappeared. Worse, the circle may be changing size and color. No spoilers, but things get hairy when an unseen betrayal threatens our heroine, proving once again that true love conquers all.
“Sign in the Field” concludes the original set of stories exactly like it began, where your eyes can play tricks on you and the creepiest shadows seem to dance on their own.
“Monster Prop” is a bonus tale that wasn’t included in the original version – and doesn’t even feature Mimi. A young girl is inspired by a traumatic childhood memory to create the next big attraction at a haunted house, which means hiring the best monster prop designer they know. Already scary enough, another real tragedy adds a gruesomely authentic twist to the new exhibit, one that may have taken things a bit too far.
I wish there had been some info letting us know a bit more about the original book, Shin Mimibukuro (New Earmuffs), or about its authors (fun fact: did you know Hirokatsu Kihara worked on Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service before transitioning into horror full-time?). Apart from Ito’s acknowledgments we learn almost nothing about the original works, or his adaptation as there’s not much to go on.
Another issue is how Japanese dialogue is rendered to approximate dialects from the Kansai region into English vernacular, coming off a bit hucksterish. Ito explains this was to honor Hirokatsu Kihara and Ichiro Nakayama (both graduates of Osaka University of Arts), but admits he didn’t actually know the dialect. English readers would have little, if any, context how one Japanese regional accent compares to another; it would all just look like English.
So many yas, yers, and y’alls…The editors seem aware how awkward this comes off as they’ve included a note up front that almost sounds apologetic. I’m all for maintaining authenticity, but some of the dialogue choices makes it difficult to take the stories very seriously.
Mimi’s Tales of Terror offers a different, yet eerily familiar, way to experience Junji Ito’s trademark macabre imagery as it’s not often we see him illustrating the work of other authors. But as trying to find a copy of Hirokatsu Kihara and Ichiro Nakayama’s Shin Mimibukuro would be nigh impossible, this is the best (and likely only) way to spend some quality time with Mimi as she bumps into ghosts, spirits, and other Eldritch horrors claiming to be “real” and not in any way made up or exaggerated. On Halloween or otherwise, Ito fans are sure to find something here that excites them.