Enter the Frightening World of Kazuo Umezu

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Several months ago, I wrote a piece about Japanese horror master Junji Ito for Bloody-Disgusting which gave a little bit of history about the artist and the incredible work he’s accomplished over the years. In that post, I made a passing mention that Ito was influenced by the works of another prominent manga writer/illustrator, one who is affectionately known as the “grandfather of gore”: Kazuo Umezu.

Umezu’s works have been haunting, terrifying, and oftentimes disgusting audiences for over five decades. Born in the Wakayama Prefecture in 1936, Umezu devoted his life to manga. However, he refused to stay locked into one genre, even though he’s widely known for his horror offerings. His work touched on sci-fi, humor, and was even adapted into love stories, although the original intention may have been twisted just a little.

In a June 2006 Rue Morgue interview with Kanako Inuki, who is referred to as “The Queen of Horror Manga”, she explained just how influential and important Umezu was to the horror manga world, saying, “Umezu developed and summarily changed the ‘Kaiki’ (Mysterious/grotesque/abnormal) horror manga genre in Japan and created ‘Kyoufu’ (Terror/Fear) manga.

Some notable works of Umezu include “Nekome Kozō” (“Cat Eyed Boy”), “Orochi” (“Orichi Blood”), “Hyōryū Kyōshitsu” (“The Drifting Classroom”), and “Hebi Shōjo” (“Reptilia”), of which the middle two titles have been adapted into films. In these, you can see the brilliance of Umezu’s art style, which has no problem diving deep into the world of gore and macabre terror. However, there is also a subtlety and cleverness to his work as well, as though he knows he could takes things further but recognizes that by doing so it becomes an exercise in just being gross versus actually causing discomfort. It’s a very fine line that few know how to walk but Umezu does so with grace, vision, and an unerring commitment to inflict fear and unease.

Unfortunately, it seems that Umezu hasn’t been up to much in the past several years, apart from his manga “My Name is Shingo” being adapted into a musical. However, considering he turns 81 later this year, I think it’s okay to let the man take a well-deserved rest, especially in his delightful home. After all, he’s inspired and cultivated enough nightmares for several generations.



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