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Tea Breaks: Junji Ito (!!!)

Featured image taken from promotional material from Ticketflap’s website!

Tea Breaks is an ongoing experiment of sorts, in an attempt to fit in a bit of the going-ons in my life. So every Monday, I talk a little bit about what happened last week, and occasionally a little bit about my own plans!

I’d begin with “not particularly much happened in Hong Kong”, and it wouldn’t be that much of a lie. It’s past Valentine’s Day, it’s past the Chinese Valentine’s Day (also known as Yuanxiao Festival), so everything should be back to normal. Right?

As it turns out, last Monday, I was walking past one of my favourite haunts in Sheung Wan, the Former Police Married Quarters (PMQ), which is a hotbed of small, indie stores selling a variety of goods, from pottery to clothing to artisan food to painting. Their stores change fairly regularly, so I like dropping by once a month to see what’s new. As I approached, I caught sight of this:

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For those who love horror manga, you’ll definitely recognise this particular art style. Junji Ito’s works are distinctive, and disturb and horrify you long after you’ve seen it. Some people are masters of horror by making it gory, disgusting; others play with your mind, make you doubt, or give you just enough time to realise the implications. Ito is a master of both: as someone aptly put it, his work “terrorises not only the mind but the body”. His kind gets under your skin, stays there, and no amount of cute kitten videos will purge the discomfort you feel.

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A few of the prints on display

His artwork and detailing is exquisite. He has a familiarity with anatomy and facial expressions, and I think it is his brilliance at capturing and realistically rendering the human face and figure that allows him to exaggerate it to horrifying effect. Everything he draws is almost geometrically precise, and all his frames are placed so that it creates maximum impact.

 

Thus, me being me, I had to go and explore what was behind those dark curtains. But also me being me, I was a tad too chicken to go alone, so I texted a friend, and we made plans to visit the exhibit together – for her, after work, and for me, after school. That turned out to be a very good idea.

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The Intersection Pretty Boy

The exhibit was divided into two sections: the first half was the “AR” experience, and everything else were just normal exhibits. As normal as Ito’s work can get, anyway. We did have to download an app before we went in, and the idea was that you would pop your phone into an AR headset, and then when you looked at certain framed pictures it would come to life, complete with screaming and sound effects.

Most of these scenes were taken from his manga, from Lovesick Dead to Spiral and the ever-infamous Tomie. I am glad that they didn’t have an animated image of the Enigma of Amigara Fault, because I would not have wanted to know what DRR DRR DRR sounded like.

Speaking of Tomie, there was an entire section dedicated to that part. While the exhibition was set in the open air space of PMQ, Tomie had been specially constructed in a small, dark space, lit only by the eerie sculpture of the titular character sitting in a water tank, just… watching you, a hand coyly raised to her hair. She was beautiful. But the darkness, the oppressiveness, along with the quiet sound effects that was played in the background meant that it was a distinctly uncomfortable experience. Even as I was watching Ito explain his idea and concept behind Tomie, I kept turning my head to make sure that the Tomie sculpture was – well, a sculpture. Unfortunately, my camera doesn’t do it justice.

There were other prints, of course: Spiral (or Naruto – not the ninja manga!), with the spirals plastered all over its walls; the Ice Cream Bus, which I’d never seen, but utterly horrifying as I read the entire set of frames from start to finish; Dissection Girl, which made me extremely sick, but according to one of my friends from med school, extremely accurate. At the very end, there was The Hanging Balloons, where we even had a photo booth to take our photographs and turn our faces into our own Hanging Balloon.

If you haven’t read any of those stories, I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

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The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel

But what I appreciated the most were the small televised segments where Ito detailed his work process, his workspace, and where he got his inspiration. For example, The Hanging Balloons were inspired by a dream he had, which he then captured and created the comic from. Or his workspace, which I might sell my arm for. It was small, but it was packed with comics, and had all sorts of custom-made equipment that he modified himself: a slanted metal board that he could attach magnets to to work from, a home-made rig where he could dangle reference material from, or his variety of tools with their double-sided attachments, all customised to suit an artist’s needs. His entire workspace and utilities, crammed into the space beneath his bunk bed!

If it came again, would I go a second time? Definitely, although I cannot say if the prints will be re-used, or will there be an entirely new set when they ever visit Hong Kong. I wish that they had compiled a full DVD on Ito talking about his inspiration or his workspace or how he came up with the concepts, because I know I would have watched it over and over again on repeat. What’s more, however, is that I’m grateful that we even got something like this in Hong Kong, though I would’ve liked to see far more prints.

One thing I do know though – I’d have liked to buy some of the physical goods back from the store to home, but I’m not very sure I’d like to wake up to a poster or a print of Ito’s work looming over my head…

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