Manga artist Junji Ito is the premiere voice of horror in Japan. His works depict everything from psychological terror to sentient microbes that control zombie fish. He’s right at home alongside American masters like Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Clive Barker.
Junji Ito also … draws cats. For the illustrator, being a feline parent has its ups and downs. They’re cute, but maybe also terrifying? They’re cuddly, but absolutely capable of ripping you to shreds. In his celebrated comic Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, he captures kitten care in his swirling, black-and-white style, evoking a cuddly wuddly spin on his horror.
With a number of projects in the work — including a new anime based on Uzumaki — the master recently appeared at Virtual Crunchyroll Expo to talk about cats and his work in Cat Diary (obviously). The streaming appearance gave Polygon the chance to ask Junji Ito a few cat- and non-cat-related questions. His replies were sent via email.
What is the hardest part about accurately portraying a cat’s emotions? Which artists have best reflected true cat personalities, either in manga, anime, or other forms of art?
Junji Ito: Cats aren’t particularly expressive, which makes them hard to draw, I think. There’s a lot of times when it’s hard to tell what they’re thinking. Sometimes you catch them looking at you suspiciously, and their eyes almost take a triangular shape (I might be imagining this.) It really makes me wonder what they’re thinking.
I thought the depiction of cats in the animated movie April and the Extraordinary World was realistic, and well done.
Cat Diary finds stretching beyond genre limitations without losing your illustrative voice. Considering that tough act, what’s been the greatest challenge in your career so far, an instance where you really had to stretch? And did it all work out as planned?
Rasputin the Patriot was based off The Trap of the State, written by the diplomat-turned-author Masaru Satō. My editor proposed the project, and I had never worked on a socio-political manga before.
Despite it being an adaptation, I’d say it was the hardest project I’ve worked on. I started out drawing it by myself, but things like the streets of Moscow and the Tokyo Detention House required a lot of effort, resulting in the first time I hired a professional assistant. Doing a manga based on the writing of Satō-sensei, who’s an intellectual monster, required a lot of research, and collecting reference material for that was also a major ordeal. The manga version was scripted by Takashi Nagasaki-sensei, who’s frequently worked with Naoki Urasawa-sensei, so I think it turned out to be an entertaining read.
Do you have anything in the works that’s more aligned with Cat Diary or are you embarking on another story steeped in horror?
I’m currently working on short stories that are serialized for a digital comics platform. I think a physical collected edition should be coming out soon, too. I’d be glad if that came out for American audiences one day. I’m currently not working on anything like Yon & Mu. It’d be nice if I could do something like that again, some day.
What do you make of the current trend of American movie and TV studios translating manga and anime into live-action film? Is there a project of yours that you’d want to see adapted?
This goes without saying, but America is the foremost country when it comes to producing TV and movies, and the manga and anime adaptations that have come out of have been of the high quality you would expect. I’d love it if there was a live action version of The Enigma of Amigara Fault [a short story included in Gyo].
Do you have anything you want to share about your previous time working with Hideo Kojima and other projects you might be working on together?
Hideo Kojima-san contacted me about a Silent Hill sequel that he was in the beginning stages of working on, but the project was cancelled before before I got too involved. Apparently the first person he spoke to was the director Guillermo Del Toro, and as the two of them discussed the project, my name came up. I’m not too familiar with video games and was a bit unsure of myself, but I headed to Kojima Productions where the three of us had our first meeting. Del Toro talked about the ideas he had, but having personally never played Silent Hill before, I just sat there feeling anxious the entire time. At the end of the meeting I took some illustrations of monsters I had drawn before that I had printed out and handed them over to the two directors for reference. And that was the only time the three of us met up.
If Kojima-san contacts me again, I’d love to contribute as much as I’m able to.