I’m writing this piece as I watch FX’s The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.Fet is tossing Strigoi into the spinning blades of a digging machine and those squirmy white worms are flying all over the place. And beside me is a list of books I need to pick up in October, one of which is a Japanese horror novel I hadn’t realized was translated.
Halloween is in the air.
Last year I shared with you all my Top 5 Japanese Horror anime and manga, with a live action movie thrown in. This time around I thought it would be great to get you hooked on a few good books that will probably haunt your dreams a little. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be good horror stories, now would they?
I’d seen the Battle Royale movie before finding out the book had been translated into English. I’d gone to one of the Asian movie rental stores looking for some anime when I spotted the DVD on a nearby rack. Most of you are probably familiar with the story: a class of junior high students heading out on a class trip gets redirected to a deserted island, handed weapons and forced to turn on one another until only one remains.
Why I love it: Despite the horrible circumstances these kids are thrown into, there is a small group who tries to do the right thing and searches for a way to save as many as possible. I’ve also got a real soft spot for it as the original movie introduced me to Chiaki Kuriyama, better known to most as GoGo from Kill Bill.
Otsuichi was an author I discovered when Viz Media started their Haikasoru imprint. I had been sent a review copy of ZOO when the line was still new. I don’t think a short story collection had ever grabbed hold of me so fast and so hard before. The next collection, Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse, features Otsuichi’s award-winning title story as well as two short stories (Black Fairy Tale and Yoko). It’s quite unsettling to have part of a story told to the reader by the decaying corpse of a young girl accidentally killed during summer vacation. And after reading Black Fairy Tale I swear my eyeballs kept tingling for a week.
Why I love them: One of ZOO‘s short stories still sticks in my mind to this day; in Song of the Sunny Spot, the last man on earth builds an android companion to care for and bury him when the time comes. The book I mentioned before that I didn’t know was out? That would be GOTH, the original novel that the manga is based on. I’ve been waiting for Viz’s translation and somehow it slipped past me.
Before it became a cult video game series, Parasite Eve was a Japanese horror novel about science gone wrong. If you wanted to know Eve’s origin story, this would be where you want to go. Be warned, it is very science heavy, and I did find myself getting a little lost in there, but I pushed through. Medical thriller? Check. Eve using her powers to obliterate everything in her way? Starts slow in the beginning but the payout in the end more than makes up for it.
Why I love it: The Parasite Eve games were some of the first games I played on the PS1 and so I just had to learn all I could. I found this novel a year or so after Battle Royale, right around when I learned about my next entry.
Remember when Gore Verbinski decided to do a movie about a cursed video tape and a girl climbing through TVs to kill people? I had only been on the internet for a handful of years and my Japanophile-ness was just a sapling. I recall laughing at The Ring more than anything else, but since I wanted to see the original it was back to the Asian rental store for me. Fast forward a few years and I have my job at the bookstore. The buyers saw me ordering in manga and Japanese novels and decided to send a few copies of Koji Suzuki’s Ring Trilogy over.
Why I love them: By this point in time I am head over heels for all the Japanese horror I can get my hands on. I’ve seen the original Japanese movies and just have to read the original stories. Also, I can’t seem to put them down early enough which means I am not getting enough sleep. A combination of reading too late and some freaky dreams. <3
Last but certainly not least is Out by Natsuo Kirino. By now (2005) even the reps at Random House know how much I love manga and Japanese novels, so when a package arrived from one of them containing a copy of this horrific thriller chocolates were sent as a thank you. In Out, a young woman strangles her husband to death and frantically turns to one of her co-workers for help disposing of the body. But things get out of hand thanks to in-fighting amongst the women involved, and the fact that a man wrongly accused of the crime takes it upon himself to make sure the right person(s) pay.
Why I love it: Unlike most other stories where the women would form some weird bond based on dismembering bodies, Out shows the reader a darker, more realistic version of that type of stressful situation. In a way it was my Dexter before I even knew about Dexter.
I hope I have inspired you to take a look at Japanese horror novels, whether it be the ones I’ve gone on about or others you might stumble across. Curl up with your favourite fall drink, a flashlight, and a cozy blanket and feel the goosebumps form on your arm while an uneasy chill sends shivers up and down your spine.
*This post was previously published on The Daily Crate.