Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Uzumaki; or, What I Must Do Before I Get to "Toos-day Afffffternnnoooooooooon, Toooos-day Afffterrnoooooooooooooon..."

(the above is to be sung, for all you Moody Blues fans.)

Today, monkey-boy Bissette begins his morning with a Center for Cartoon Studies graphic novel discussion, a now-venerable tradition instituted by the now-seniors and faculty Robyn Chapman. This is my first go at the process, which should go fine; I'll let you know if monkey-boy Bissette chi-chis out or spews chewed banana all over. Otherwise, this is likely all you'll hear about it from me for now, except to say I'm a huge fan of Junji Ito's horror manga and the complete (three volume) Uzumaki is among my favorite genre graphic novels -- right up there with From Hell and the innovative Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan/Tom Palmer Tomb of Dracula (graphic novel by proxy, founder of the form in the genre though it's a serialized periodical that became a graphic novel en route).

Monkey-boy Bissette prepped his Q&A sheet a couple of weeks ago, though monkey-boy had to borrow a copy of Uzumaki Vol. 1 from senior Caitlin Plovnick, since monkey-boy still has yet to unpack his manga because monkey-boy has too many manga and books and can't find his ass with a compass yet. Poor, poor monkey-boy; he owes Caitlin big-time.

Anyhoot, enough on monkey-boy, here's the scoop on the Uzumaki Q&A; see you tomorrow with livelier monkey-boy chatter! (PS: You'll have to go to amazon.com to 'look inside', though -- man, those used copies are dear now, aren't they?)

Study Guide for Uzumaki by Junji Ito
Discussion leader: Stephen R. Bissette
Discussion date: May 1

1. According to some, there are two kinds of fantasy: the marvelous, works set in wholly invented universes unconnected to our own reality and adhering to their own internal rules of logic, and the fantastique, in which the fantasy elements encroach, intrude upon (and in some cases transform) our known reality, either period or contemporary. Which genre would you place Uzumaki within, and does it function as horror rather than fantasy? If so, why? If not, why not?

2. Uzumaki is unique in that its central premise concerns a primal obsession with a geometric form -- the spiral -- and how this obsession impacts life in an isolated Japanese community. Can you think of any other works -- in comics, fiction, cinema or music -- concerned with primal obsessions with, and material manifestations of, a form or forms?

3. If you are familiar with either other horror manga (like Hino’s), or other horror manga by Junji Ito (Tomie, Museum of Horror, Gyo), how does his writing and art in Uzumaki work -- or not work -- for you? If you are not familiar with any of Ito’s other creations, or horror manga, what are your initial impressions of Ito’s work as a writer and as a cartoonist? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you?

4. Junji Ito’s horror manga are entirely set within contemporary Japan. How does Ito present life in the coastal village of Kurozu-cho, and the Kurozo High School? Did you find this setting convincing and evocative? If so, what worked? If not, what would you have needed changed (and are these changes reflective of differences between American and Japanese cultural norms)?

5. The teenage couple Kirie Goshima and her troubled boyfriend Shuichi Saito are the protagonists threading together the six chapters in this first (of three) volumes. How does Ito characterize them, and how is it different from how the victims of the spiral obsession(s) portrayed? Choose one chapter and discuss.

6. If you had to choose one key sequence in which the script and art worked in unison to create a powerful emotional effect, which would you choose and why?

7. There is a fine line in horror between the terrifying and the risible, the horrific and the humorous. Given the inherent absurdity of its premise, Uzumaki walks that tightrope throughout. Choose a sequence in which Ito “pushes the envelope” -- either in a way that was genuinely disturbing or horrific for you, or that became laughable. What works, what doesn’t work, and why?

8. The function of horror is in part to give shape to formless fears, to speak the unspeakable, to reveal the hidden. In Uzumaki, Ito gives shape to various fears specific to the lives of its teenage protagonists concerning the fragility and/or instability of their parents, their homes, their school, their community, their place within these. Pick a passage that addresses one of these issues, and discuss how it serves the specific chapter, and the story as a whole.

9. The mysterious spiral’s manifestations, distortions and mutations based upon more intimate, personalized obsessions and fears -- sexuality, attraction, blemishes, deformities, vanity, beauty, weight, etc. -- manifest symptoms recognizably derived from real life (e.g., bulimia) before they erupt into impossible extremes. The hideous logic of Uzumaki lies in part in the way the spirals make public such private fears: a central conceit in many nightmares. Choose a single sequence in any of the six chapters that marks the transition between a believable, “real” situation and the point at which it tips into the fantastique -- how does Ito stage this transition, as a writer, as an artist? Does it work for you? If so, how does it work? If not, why not?

10. Which manifestation of such intimate fears in these six chapters did you find the most personally affecting? Which did you find the least affecting? Why?

OK, I'll expect your writeups by this evening, no excuses!

BTW, Dave and Josh did a great job on the shelving yesterday -- I'll be happily racking books the rest of the week. Still a ways to go, but at last it's underway.

Have a great Wednesday!

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