Glyceride holds a special place in my heart. It is the piece that reintroduced me to Ito after many years of absence, found on a meme page too of all places (my mom used to have a Chinese copy in her bedroom which I would freak out looking at – I can’t read Chinese and the pictures were so scary to 5 year old me, I thought the devil himself was in that book).
Whilst Glyceride isn’t the scariest Junji Ito story by far, it is considered by many fans to be one of his most disturbing. Despite having no ghosts and very little blood, it is a gut wrenching story that is truly not for the feint. It’s a brilliant example of his story telling style which takes the smallest human error and expands it into apocalyptic standards. It’s also a great example of his body horror art which, if you’re new to, you’d likely vomit reading and then get freaked out by your own vomit.
I don’t normally give warnings but this comic is seriously not for the feint of heart. It is incredibly discomforting. As I will include screenshots, read on at your own risk.
Yui lives in a town near Mt. Fuji where her dad runs a barbeque shop. She, her dad and her brother, Goro, live in an apartment above the store. Sounds like a normal business owning family except in Junji Ito world, nothing is normal. The grease from the shop makes the apartment greasy, the walls exude grease, their clothes are greasy no matter how many times they’re washed and the family, with Yui as the odd exception, are naturally greasy as well. Goro even developed a weird habit of drinking cooking oil. Living with so much grease, Yui becomes sensitive to it and coins the term ‘saturation level’ to describe how much grease is in the air around her.
No horror yet, but Ito’s art already makes you uncomfortable.
The horror starts when Goro hits puberty. The oiliness of the flat made him susceptible to acne making him incredibly unpopular at school, girls laugh at him and boys bully him. Blaming his dad for him growing up greasy, Goro stops going to school, locks himself in his room and drinks grease all day. One day, having run out grease, he asks Yui to pick up more. However, Goro’s unhealthy habits have taken a toll on his health, making his horrible personality, stress and acne even worse. Holding his head in his hands, he accidentally squirts pus out of his pores across the room at Yui. Repulsive enough for any measure except Ito’s, Goro is insulted at Yui’s reflexive disgusted reaction, he pushes her onto the ground and squeezes pus right into her face. The following panel is one of Ito’s most famous and definitely also one of his most repulsive:
Completely out of control, Goro starts strangling Yui threatening to kill not only her, but anyone who has ever bullied him for being greasy. Before he could do that, however, his dad comes in and kills him with a frying pan first. Yui and her dad hide the body.
A sudden coincidence occurs. Simultaneous to Goro’s death, the family’s failing barbeque joint suddenly boosts in business due to a new import of incredibly juicy marbled meat. One day, two customers come in asking for some of the new mystery meat but dad says he’s run out with a shipment not coming in any time soon.
A second coincidence, soon after he’s run out of meat, Yui finds herself having nightmares about grease. She also finds herself starting to develop acne and becoming greasy, something she had somehow avoided growing up. One night, Yui dreams of Mt. Fuji erupting grease across the town, waking up in shock, she finds her dad force feeding her grease, as if a goose being fattened for its liver. She confronts him and he says it was a mistake, confusing her for her dead brother.
Sure that it’s drinking grease that’s causing her changes, Yui stops sleeping, worrying that her dad will feed her grease again. Her dad then begins to
drink grease himself. Eventually the restaurant fails but the flat’s saturation content and her dad’s greasiness continue to rise. The ceiling drips grease ‘like a slow falling rain’, water in the bathtub always has a thin sheen of oil over it, the futons are consistently filled with liquid and the air is almost impossible to breathe. In the story’s finale, Yui hears a chopping sound and goes to the kitchen. Her dad finally has new meat to sell, despite the restaurant having already failed – it’s his own foot that he’s chopping on the countertop but out of his amputated leg, there is no blood dripping, only grease.
There’s a lot to discuss in this story. A lot of the horrors actually comes from quite mundane, or at least everyday, fears. Bad ventilation, negative family dynamics, acne… Yui is an unfortunate girl, she lives in what seems to be a single parent family with a failing business but on top of that she’s the only ‘normal’ person making her character one that a lot of people can sympathize with easily. For some reason, she never moves out even after her father abuses her by forcing her to drink grease, sticking around until he himself becomes grease.
There’s a lot of horror in Yui’s situation, though we (hopefully) won’t have family members becoming literal the embodiment of oil, there’s a lot of metaphor in how she was treated by her brother and father. I’ll refrain from giving my exact interpretation – this isn’t really the place – but it’s something that can happen to normal people completely out of the blue.
There’s also a lot of horror in her dad’s life. He’s trying to save his dying restaurant to the point of sacrificing his family. Running out of dead son, he tries to transform his daughter and when that doesn’t work he transforms himself. Even though it’s too late to save his business, he succeeds in making himself the perfect cut of meat – nothing more than a piece of meat for his business.
This review’s a bit longer than usual (or quite a bit longer) but I did say that Ito is one of my favourite manga-kas of all time. It’s not just his artwork, it’s his brilliantly layered writing which brings fear through showing the insanity of everyday life. His stories aren’t long, they aren’t complicated, they’re really just little explorations of horror themes. Sometimes his themes are more visual, sometimes more psychological. Glyceride is somewhere in the middle, there isn’t a lot of traditional horror – there aren’t any ghosts, there isn’t any blood (only oil) but that doesn’t mean you don’t get scared. In fact if anything, the scariest thing about Glyceride is how it shows that life at home can become your worst nightmare.