[Contains images which are NSFW but safe for Japanese children everywhere. All images read from right to left and are taken from the Chinese reprinting of The Left Hand of God, The Right Hand of the Devil]
“Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling. I say the strongest emotion, because I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure.”
It is probably safe to assume that the success of the comics of Umezu Kazuo (if mostly in Japan) is predicated on the extreme violence, the lurid monsters, and the somewhat peculiar situations he gets his young characters into.
But underpinning all of this is Umezu’s deep understanding of childhood uncertainty; a child’s nagging suspicion of the “big people” who govern their world: the teacher who deserves only to be strangled…
…the loathsome neighbor who waits ready to poison and defile innocence.
Manga like The Drifting Classroom present adults as diabolical and feeble minded beasts. If the hero’s mother seems homely and pleasant enough, she remains otherwise distant and separate, like some countermanding and occasionally comforting God; only present in the mind but never in the flesh. These adults cannot be relied upon, and we often find them debilitated and trussed up in bed. In The Left Hand of God, The Right Hand of the Devil, for instance, the protagonist’s parents lie injured and exposed to their children; together yet withheld from copulation:
This short but vicious part of Umezu’s oeuvre is persistent in its suggestions that parents are absolute savages; far more to be feared than the demons lurking beneath a tall, oppressive bed; or behind a fence hoping to pull unsuspecting children like callow fish from the pavement.
In the first chapter of volume 4 of The Left Hand of God, The Right Hand of the Devil, a well-dressed girl rejects a ratty doll left on the pavement as bait and is allowed to pass unharmed by a lurking psychopath. A younger and less sophisticated girl shows more sympathy and retrieves the doll, cradling it with tenderness and affection. Her slow, gruesome dispatch at the end of a murderer’s hook is quite inevitable.
If there is a lesson to be learnt from these opening scenes, it may be that only those who cast aside childish things will be spared, the earnestly naive are annihilated or served up as dinner:
The children in Umezu’s stories are always on the edge of fear; that fear of aberrant birth and of unnatural parenting despite all evidence to the contrary — a dividend of that familiar combination of parental love and torment. These manga were once bought with money provided by their young readers’ parents; the very humans presented as being on the edge of reason in Umezu’s manga; here questioned indirectly for allowing their children access to the material in question.
The theme of parental neglect is reiterated as we progress through this fourth volume. An episode where children are force fed blood-soaked cupcakes may seem like a morality tale on the subject of greed, but this distant memory of Hansel and Gretel is also a rebuke to parents for presenting their children with “poisoned fruit”. This attempt by Umezu to associate death with sweetness is a faint echo of the modern Japanese version of the water torture — the dripping leftovers shoveled down the victims’ tender throats till their stomachs bulge and their intestines sliced open to reveal the products of their engorgement.
Their heads are then severed and stored as trophies — all of this deadly reminiscent of the Japanese army during their trek down and across China and Southeast Asia.
[World War II Cannibalism from Orochi Vol. 5]
Whether all this is the product of a feverish mind or of careful planning is hard to ascertain. The lighthearted manner in which Umezu carries himself in interviews acts to deflect any criticism based upon sexual innuendo or base perversion. Sometimes though, the evidence simply cannot be ignored.
Umezu’s foray into the hypersexualized industry of child idols in the final book of The Left Hand of God, The Right Hand of the Devil has an undeviating perspective on female murder. The common or garden deaths are reserved for the men of his tale. A male medium is crushed by a crane, and the protagonist’s father knocked over the head by a falling rock.
Not so the protagonist’s mother, who is accidentally pierced by a deflected harpoon during the young hero’s attempt to kill the demon possessed girl of the story.
[Freudian lapse: The hero attempts to harpoon the devilish beauty but pierces his mother instead ]
That girl is later seen introducing a hypodermic needle into the belly of a fellow idol and competitor….
…deflowering her competitor with an acrid flow which brings corruption and a swirl of furious inking to her pubis. Here we see her doubling over in pain as she is suffused by a cramping evil; a tainted contraction.
The demon girl’s comeuppance comes as she is ritually pierced with needles even as she is meeting the man of her dreams: both a ritual violation and a premonition of things to come.
When the demon is expelled from the young girl, it decides to inhabit the body of a lab monkey, that primal substitute for man now made intelligent. The drawing which it creates to the amazement of all is a vision of its master, a reflection of the author himself.
Now stripped of all pretense; the grinning apotheosis of Umezu’s views on human action, invention, and manipulation.
Photo of Umezu Kazuo