During the first day of Crunchyroll Expo 2019, acclaimed manga artist Junji Ito sat down with many members of the press to answer questions regarding his work.

Q: What would you say are the most important things for you to focus on creating a horror story in your experience?
Junji Ito (via translator): So for myself, I think what’s important is the mood or atmosphere is to create that first, my priority. And for when I create manga I know like the story is very important but in manga’s case you know what first attracts you is the picture and the art so I try to create the art and bring the atmosphere from there.

Q: Recently your adaptation of “Frankenstein” got the Eisner Award and I was wondering how you talked and approached adapting such a well known story.
ITO: For “Frankenstein”, I found out about 25 years ago from the Kenneth Benner movie. After that I got an offer to draw like a series, a serialization a while back. Actually, I really didn’t know much about it at the time. I think I knew it from the old school movie, Boris Karloff. And when I researched it, I realized it was highly scientific story when you see it, it’s like an android kind of character coming out. So I really wanted to convey that aspect of it.
As you know the original “Frankenstein” story with the professor, he was asked to create a bride, like an artificial bride. I tried to put my own spin to it for the female android bride. I don’t want to talk too much about it. It’ll spoil the story but later when I saw the Kenneth Brenner movie, it was kind of similar to what I’ve drawn.

Q: We all know you’re able to make pretty scary stories out of cats. Are there any other cute creatures you want to try that you would consider making a story out of or how do you approach taking something cute and kinda turning that into something that’s the complete opposite of that?
ITO: Actually I’m not really good at drawing animals but because I had cats, it was kinda easy to draw for me so that’s why I created stories based on my cats. Right now my wife has a lizard but I don’t think lizards are very cute so I don’t know if that will be adapted into any story.

My Question: Going back to “Frankenstein”, are there other horror classics from any other country that you also want to illustrate?
ITO: Do you know HP Lovecraft? As [I] mentioned, HP Lovecraft was an artist that [I] really admired and was kind of thinking that would be great to adapt for my serialization. I saw an artist called Tanabe Gou who actually did a great spin on it of a serialization. After [I] saw that, maybe I can’t do it as great as Tanabe Gou-san.

Photo taken by Faith Orcino

Q: So we know you do a lot of eerie stuff on horror stories but is there a specific genre you think you can tackle besides horror?
ITO: I think I would like to try comedy but I think keeping up with the jokes will be very difficult for me. It’ll be hard but I also like maybe do something like a love comedy story. But even that would be kinda challenging and kinda impossible for me.

Q: You done showcase your work in a lot of mediums. Have you had any interest in doing concepts for games?
ITO: I am not much of a gamer myself. As you know, my manga takes a lot of my time and so I never really got a chance to get into gaming and I know if I tried gaming, I’d get hooked. Then I wouldn’t be able to draw manga anymore and work on my stories. So I haven’t really thought about like doing anything for games per say. But in the past, I like did a novel game, if you guys are familiar with that and [I] really enjoyed that. So it would be something I would try again in the future.

Q: How do you feel when your works were getting adapted into other forms of media like movies or anime like “Uzumaki” to a film in the early 2000’s?
ITO: Whenever my works get adapted to like films, I personally love films so that’s something I would like to do, to do movies but I don’t have time for that. So when I do my work, I try to portray kinda like a movie and so whenever my works become a movie, I’m really happy that it becomes something in a different medium. For me, it’s like a dream. Also something cool is that I got to meet famous actresses. So I think that’s a bonus for me.

Q: You recently produced one of your first art books “Igyo Sekai”. How did you come about making the decisions to do that and were there anything you wanted that didn’t make it into the book?
ITO: For the art book, actually the reason [is] I’ve been drawing manga for 30 years now. It’s been over 30 years now but the publishing company approached me because it was my 30th anniversary so “let’s make an art book.” For the art book I wasn’t really confident in releasing because it’s just the art only. It’s not a story or anything like that but the person in charge really worked hard to make this project happen and so there were some originals that were with other companies. They were able to get those back and include it into the art book. It was very great that this came together.
In terms of your questions about art that didn’t get into the art book, There was a publishing company that went out of business that had [my] art work but there was no way to get this artwork back. The art was like with a girl with different parts of her face were chimneys and smoke coming out. That was one of the art [I] wanted to include but unfortunately they couldn’t get that artwork back.

Q: You started reading when you were very young and you began drawing around elementary school. Were you inspired by anything in particular growing up in Gifu?
ITO: Actually I grew up in a city next to Nagano which was surrounded by a lot of mountains and a lot of slope roads. The city is mostly like flat roads and you know you would go up and down the different roads. It’s kinda like for me, it was comparably like 3-D environment that I grew up it. So in terms of growing up, there was a lot of narrow roads in between buildings that are kinda similar to a maze. So a lot of the times, I would go over there and play hide-and-see and also there was like some old hospital buildings that were scary. I think those experiences are reflected in my manga.

Q: I was wondering, how does it feel to be an inspiration for many other creative circles such as Hollywood and are you ever surprised by who admires your work?
Ito’s Translator: He’s forgetful so he’s struggling to figure out who.
Member of the press talks about the “Steven Universe” reference.
ITO: That example, having it in that cartoon is something that I’m surprised about. I just remembered right now ten years ago there was Guillermo Del Toro. When he came to Japan, he said he was a big fan of mine and wanted to see me. Maybe 20 years ago, not 10 years ago. Because of my schedule and I think I was in Gifu doing some other things, I didn’t have time to see him but I was really surprised about that. I really respect his work and seen his movie (“The Shape of Water”).

Q: What is the scariest movie or book you’ve seen and how has it inspired you?
ITO: I think we touched upon earlier Lovecraft. There was “A Color Out of Space”, what [I] was watching where the meteor hits the Earth. When it hits the earth, there’s a color that doesn’t exist on Earth and the color consumes the stuff around it. I think that was something that was scary at the time. In terms of books, Koji Suzuki’s “Ring” was something when I read the book was scary. In movies, “The Exorcist” was very for me, even when I watched it. It was traumatic for me seeing that and also a movie called “Susperia” was another one.

Q: What classic fairy tale would you like to adapt into horrifying manga?
ITO: In terms of works, Steinbeck’s “Snake”. Also Dickens’ novel (“The Signal-Man”). Those would be cool to do a manga adaptation.

Q: What do you find satisfying? Do you give the reader hope of a good outcome or horrific ending?
ITO: For me, it depends on the length of the story, With short story, I would like to do more horrific ending. If it’s a longer series, I know that fans are reading it and get kinda emotionally attached to the characters. So if that’s the case, I would like to end it on a good not so people won’t hate the story. For me personally, I like the short stories and the horrific endings. It’s kinda what I’m good at.

Q: Viz Media is going to release “No Longer Human” a novel by Osamu Dazai this fall. What peaked you interest in this particular novel?
ITO: For the “No Longer Human” manga, in Japan the company Shogankan released that manga. And for this kind of industry, what’s important is having connections with the editor and I have worked with this editor previously for younger readers magazine. And a lot of times, those editors kinda move to another department for older readers magazines in Japan. So that editor reached out to me about a new project. Most of the time I would do something for the much younger readers and like for the more Josei kind of audience also. A lot of females are reading my manga. This magazine was more towards middle-aged me who read this magazine. I was thinking maybe a story that’s like surreal won’t be as exciting to the readers. So the editor’s kind of approach was we would do classic literature from Japan and the editor listed many titles and looking at the list, the original “No Longer Human” of Ozamu Dazai kinda clicked with me. I hadn’t actually read it in the past so I read it and when I read it, I could feel sympathy. I could feel like the characters kinda similar to my stories so I sympathized with the main character. I feel like whenever you’re creating a manga or story, whenever you can feel that connection to those characters and that storm you can really make good work. That’s how we started that project.

Q: You manga are very popular in the US. What are you hopes for the market for Japanese Horror in US? What would be your ideal for that?
ITO: It’s great that the US market and English speakers are reading my works and even people and companies are publishing my works. I’m really grateful for that opportunity so I don’t think anymore than that. I’m not really looking for more than that but just happy for the English market to read my works. Growing up, I was influenced by a lot of American movies and so it’s a dream that people in the US are reading my manga.

Q: When you are working on a project, do you develop your ideas based on visual elements or plot?
ITO: In terms on how I approach projects, most of the times, I don’t start with the plot. It’s more of a visual or strong image intuition that I have. I would write it down on my memo pad some ideas then what’s easy for me is if there’s an image, I can think about what’s an interesting plot I can create around the image. I may have a picture of the climax scene. I can just visualize in my head what kind of plot I can create and make it interesting. If it’s the opposite and I have a plot and I have to make the visuals for it, it’s more difficult for me to do that.

Q: In “Uzumaki”, you take a common design element such as spirals that takes place in both human nature and in design and you turn it into something sinister. Do you choose these simple elements of design because they exist all around us to make a greater impact on your readers so your readers become paranoid as well?
ITO: Explaining the background why I made “Uzumaki”, this was a project from Shogankan. Before that I was working ten years before a lot with Arashinormama Publishing and now Shogakan had approached me. They had a lot of readers and it kinda made me nervous, kinda thinking “What Should I write for this project?” So I came to think in my mind maybe let’s make a story about people who live in a unique town and people who live in weird buildings like long buildings that are popular in Japan. I was kind of thinking “What if I make that long building a spiral?” In Japan, a lot of times, spirals are used in gag mangas like comedy mangas on characters’ cheeks and so it make it into horror, I was thinking the spiral design more complex. Actually it looks, while I was doing that, really creepy. That’s how I tied it into horror.

I want to thank again Crunchyroll organizers for letting Anime Ushi participate in this press conference and for Junji Ito for taking the time to answer all of the press’s questions.

As mentioned before, VIZ has Ito’s adaptation of Dazai’s “No Longer Human”. The publisher also has a collection of other translated manga from Ito including “Venus in the Blind Spot” set to be out in August 2020. The art book discussed is also available in English thanks to VIZ.

Junji Ito will be taking part of Comic-Con@Home in a discussion about his works thanks to VIZ. Head over to their page to watch the panel.

Crunchyroll Expo recently announced that it decided to change their next set of dates to August 6th-8th, 2021 due to health and safely concerns. While they postponed the physical event, they will be going digital on September 4th-6th. Head to their website for more information including where to register for V-CRX.

Image courtesy of CRX.