Having pushed our way past the merch table and made a general nuisance of ourselves by photographing anyone and everything in the vicinity, it was time for the main event— An extended talk with Umezu Kazuo himself detailing his history as a manga artist and the people he traumatized into collaborating with him, including his aloof fellow panelist and assistant, Demerin Kaneko.
The talk was lead by the face of modern urban ghost stories and V-Cinema director, Hirokatsu Kihara.
SETTING THE INDUSTRY STANDARD
Hirokatsu Kihara (HK): You’ve been writing manga since before many of your fans were born. You debuted in 1955—10 years after the war, or to put it in perspective, right around the time Toei released Godzilla. When did you start drawing?
Umezu Kazuo (UZ): I’ve been at it since elementary school. By the fourth grade, I had my nose so deep into manga that I began to drift away from my family.
I wrote my first real manga, Mori no Kyoudai (The Brother and Sister in a Forest), at the age of fourteen in the eighth grade. I have a deep connection with the number fourteen—hence my other manga, Fourteen.
HK: How did you improve your skills to a professional level at such a young age?
UZ: Nowadays you can learn from professional manga classrooms, but at the time we had to make do with correspondence courses and books detailing what pens and techniques famous authors used. These gave me a base. You have to remember that manga was still a young and flexible medium. Weekly serials were such an insane notion that no one dared consider them. I had room to innovate.
HK: I like the way you use musical notation to supplement your sound effects.
UZ: In a scary scene of a movie, the music will go 'dun-dun-DUN!' You can’t experience the same feeling of mounting dread with just text, so I included notation to give it a soundtrack. Barring that, I attempt to compensate for the silence with blood-curdling art work.
HK: It seems like music was always a part of you.
UZ: In my second year of high school I gave up writing manga. The pay was lousy! Anyway, one of my classmates taught me how to play piano. I would sneak into the school music room through the window, even though I could have just used the door!
Years later I realized that people should stick to what they’re good at, and the only thing I was good at was manga!
HK: I’m not good at anything so I don’t know if I can follow your advice. What brought you back to manga?
UZ: I was inspired by my senior class trip. Or, should I say, by the people who went on it. I get motion sickness riding anything so I opted to stay home. When my classmates came back, they told me that they saw my manga on sale in Atami! That was news to me. I don’t know how it found its way to a hot spring resort town. I made some calls and ended up getting thirty thousand yen for my two books, Kyoudai no Mori and Betsu-Sekai (Another World).
HK: That was serious coin back in the day. Remember that items at the supermarket were priced one, five, or ten yen at the time. What did you do with your newfound fortune?
UZ: I gave it all to my mother. There was nothing a kid could do with money in the mountain town I grew up in. I had no concept of money, especially spending money.
YOU GUYS WANNA SEE A DEAD BODY?
HK: Tell me about your hometown.
UZ: I grew up in a place called Gojo City in the Nara mountainside. It looked like a tiny Edo-era villa—It could have used as the set of a period piece. As kids we were amazed at the only three-story building in town. It was unbelievable! That was a skyscraper to us.
Demerin Kaneko (DK): What did people do for fun in the boonies?
UZ: Well, it wasn’t on purpose, but a lot of us got hit by trains! The train in my village only ran once an hour, but people would still somehow manage to get hit walking along the track on a regular basis. Especially if they were walking across the bridge—no escape.
One such accident occurred by my house. I rushed to the scene to see my first dead body, unaware that the shock of doing so would change my life. The man’s torso was wedged between the tracks, his lower body nowhere to be seen. Yet the real shock was the blood, or rather the lack there of. When people get killed in movies there’s always fountains of blood, but the ground around the body was clean. Traveling down the track, all I could find were the minced remains of the lost lower body, scattered in chunks like human meatballs.
HK: How did you and the village react?
UZ: It shook me to the core. Not because of the shock of seeing a body, but because I knew the face connected to it. His death was a suicide, not an accident, and it bothered me that someone who appeared so happy and active could be hiding such darkness.
HORROR STARTS AT HOME
HK: You were the first to write horror comics for girls. From the outside, Shojo seems like a narrow genre.
UZ: Both Shojo and Shonen manga have their strengths. Shojo draws from everyday experiences and emotions—hate, love, fear. Shonen is more open and allows for dramatic settings and story telling. The scariest things are those closest to us, which makes Shojo the perfect vessel for fear!
HK: The real world settings really get under your skin. Where do you get your ideas from?
UZ: Most of my writing is based on hometown legends. Kitsune Me no Shojo (The Girl With Fox Eyes), for example, was a real local legend warning about a shape-shifting fox that played tricks on people. I grew up listening to these cautionary tales.
My parents used to tell me, "If the village comes under attack by a monster snake, attack its tail, not the head!" Years later I saw a TV special where a team of reporters travel into the depths of Africa to tame an anaconda. The bumbling crew couldn’t get their hands around the giant snake, until one of the natives came up from behind and rubbed the serpent’s tail into submission. I remember thinking, “All that nonsense mom and dad fed me was true!”
HK: I think the tradition of frightening folklore lives on today as urban legends. You’re responsible for your fair share of those, am I right?
UZ: Oh, you mean the Omi-Chan boom. One of my early manga, Omi-Chan ga Konya mo Yattekuru (Omi-Chan Strikes Again Tonight), was about a women named Omizu who drowned in a swamp. Parents warned their children, “Don’t go near the water or Omi-Chan will drag you under with her gnarly hands!” This didn’t stop girls from swimming there, though.
The name became synonymous with “ghost” all throughout Tokyo. Mitsuko, Misaki, Miyu—Any girl with a “Mi” in her name was subject to being teased with the nickname “Omi-Chan.” Kids these day have Hanako-Chan. Back then there was Omi-Chan.
THE BLACK CAT
DK: There’s a certain “I heard this story from my brother’s friend” kind of quality to your stories. Do you have any real life scary stories for us?
UZ: Aside from seeing a train-mangled body as a kid? Well, I saw another one as an adult just a few years back. There was a huge crowd gathered around to get a glimpse of the carnage. But while the men looked on from a distance, high school girls formed a tight circle around the body. It confirmed what I had always known to be true —girls are horror. And no sequel is complete without a trilogy… I wonder when the next one will come out?
I do have a story, and while I wouldn’t call it paranormal, it’s definitely unexplained.
I have one of those black cat clocks hanging from the wall in my house—you know, the ones with the swinging tail and shifting eyes? Anyway, his name is Kurobe. One day I came home and Kurobe had stopped moving. At first I thought the batteries had died while I was out, but the truth was far stranger. Comparing it to the other clocks I had in my house, I could tell that it had stopped at the exact moment that I entered the house.
This odd phenomenon continued. At first it was just when I came home at night. But as time went on it would happen more frequently, triggered at times by a casual glance at the clock. I would look up from eating, or away from the TV, and there would be Kurobe, hanging still under my gaze.
DK: Maybe he’s trying to tell you something. "Play with me…" You have an affinity for cats that tends to spill over into your manga as well.
UZ: Nekome Kozo (The Cay Eyed Boy) started its run in 1960. It was my first serialized manga, meaning it had my first character designed to have mass appeal. The series focused more on the story than the characterization. The cat eyed boy that watches from the shadows…
At the time Shigeru Mizuki was gaining steam as a horror writer for his Yokai stories. I wasn’t going to let him beat me at my own game! Shigeru might write stronger characters, but Nekome Kozo gave you the chills like nothing else.
The chewing gum wrapped in mini-manga was proof of his popularity. Character goods were virtually unheard of at the time. Having a character strong enough to move merchandise was a great honor. Some say a manga has made it big when an anime version is released, but the success of its goods shows you the public’s love for your character.
The man can't GWASH!, hence the big fake hand he's always sporting.
The report will pause here for a short intermission. We’ll be back with the lost Nekome Kozo animation, pop songs penned by Umezu, and the Makoto-chan dance!
|Umezz Carnival 2009 Discussion|
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