Lovesickness is a collection of one of Junji Ito's classic horror series from the 1990s. It's a dark parable about urban legends, superstitions, and suicide. This is one of the series that Ito is remembered for, but on a certain level, could it really be a comedy?
This series of stories is about an urban legend that high school girls and some adults believe in slavishly. If they seek a ghostly handsome man in the fog, he can tell them if they will ever find true love. His answers are often dark and cynical. His cynical advice often drives them to insanity and suicide. A surly teen moves back to town after a few years away and decides to hunt down and stop this ghostly man, only to be mistaken for him and chased by girls for love advice. The women and girls who killed themselves frequently haunt the same crossroads as ghosts eager to drag you to hell. Soon the entire town has gone insane, and the hero can only watch helplessly as things just go to hell. This is the curse of Lovesickness.
Reading the Lovesickness stories again after the initial sense of shock from the 90s can put them in a different light. On a certain level, the situation and the characters are so over the top that they start to feel like players in a comedy. It's a dark comedy that reveals a very pessimistic view of humanity that's a common thread in Ito's stories. There's a tinge of sexism in the way the girls and women desperately define themselves by whether they find true love and then go nuts and kill themselves when told they'll be alone. Women are hysterical and irrational! Men are only marginally less so, prone to obsession themselves. It's as if people are victims of their impulses and have no free will. Ito's misanthropy is so gleeful that he may not really mean it. He could just be playing with pulp tropes. The other five stories in the collection seem to point to Ito being a prankster and put-on artist as much as he is a master of horror. Two feature his regular characters, the Addams Family-esque Hizikuri siblings, a creepy brother and sister who wreck darkly comic havoc wherever they go. "Memories of Real Shit" is an inconsequential story about a boy's obsession with shit that's a one-note joke that doesn't land at all. "Phantom Mansion" is a different take on a haunted house, and "Ribs Woman" is one of Ito's better horror tales with its wallow in gore and body horror, and once again, insane, grotesque women.
Lovesickness is not Ito's best work, but he still shows you things you haven't seen before, and that's a rare thing.
Lovesickness is now available in digital and print editions.