By: Casea Mhtar | @madamekrow
Mature Content Warning: This post contains content that we at The Anime View do not think is suitable for everyone. The genre of the work being reviewed is Horror. Possible triggers or subjects could include severe mental illness and suicide. By clicking “Keep Reading,” you understand that you may encounter such content. Viewer/reader discretion is advised.
Do you feel the cool winds as they blow through the trees? Do you hear the fallen leaves rolling down the street, scraping against the sidewalk as you pass by? Do you notice the air of gloom hovering over you even on a bright and sunny day? We are now in the throws of Autumn, as we creep closer and closer to Halloween. I hope you’re as excited as I am, because for today’s post I will be delving into a story by Junji Ito, who is also known as Japan’s Master of Horror. I feel he needs no more introduction than that, since one google search will immediately prove why he has such an honorable title.
The one I will be discussing is from Fragments of Horror, a manga of short stories. He created this manga after an 8 year hiatus and it certainly appears that he was rusty in terms of storytelling. Generally, this manga has been received as being rather subpar in comparison with his other works. Which is why I chose this story from Fragments of Horror, the only one that stuck with me even years after I had finished reading the book. It often gets overlooked, making it all the more enticing to shine a light on it.
Kume is out birdwatching, the first time he’s done so in a long while, when he hears someone calling out to him. It’s a stranger lying on the ground, pleading for help. This man gets carried away to the hospital on a stretcher as Kume follows behind. When speaking with the doctor we learn that this man, Shiro Moriguchi, had a terrible fall resulting in both of his legs being broken. Not only that, but he also doesn’t have any family or friends to call, and is unemployed. They all wonder how he survived that long and with a stutter, he explains that he rationed whatever food he had in his backpack.
Later, he begs Kume to stay the night with him and he agrees with mild concern. Moriguchi continues to open up about not having anyone in his life. In fact he never knew his family, expressing that he grew up in an orphanage. Kume replies, “You can talk to me about your troubles. We have a connection now.” before turning over and the two going to sleep for the night.
Kume is awakened by a strange noise, immediately disturbed by the sight of a woman shrouded in shadow on top of Moriguchi, kissing him. She slips off of Shiro, walks to Kume and smiles directly in his face, then proceeds to calmly walk out of the hospital room. Moriguchi spits out a lump of raw meat and begins to panic that she has come back. Kume asks for more information and Moriguchi confesses to him what really happened during those four weeks of being injured and destitute, how he was truly able to survive. Seven days after his fall, he was running low on food when that woman appeared with her cheeks full, chewing and chewing. She kissed him, pushing raw meat into his mouth as it sizzled on his starving tongue. Leaving without a word, only to return the next day. This time, her kiss produced warm blood to quench his thirst. She is the one that kept him alive during that time, but he no longer needs her help. In fact, the meat lost its delicious taste, and he is left feeling as though he shouldn’t be eating it at all. Moriguchi was terrified, so Kume decided to stay with him another night in the hospital.
Once again, Kume was awakened by the woman feeding Shiro in the middle of the night. Immediately, Moriguchi spits out an eyeball from his mouth while the mysterious woman chuckles and leaves. Kume decides to follow her through the halls and out of the hospital. But right as he touches her shoulder, she turns into a large, black bird and flies off into the darkness.
The following morning they choose to alert the authorities, though they leave out the details of her flying into the night. Without the authorities present, Shiro panics about her being some kind of bird monster. Confessing that when he was an infant, he was abandoned in the corner of a park, alone for about a week or so. It’s a miracle that he survived, making him wonder if she was feeding him then as well, as though he is her chick.
Detectives show up the following day, revealing that the eyeball and meat are both of human origin and from the same person. Shiro and Kume are questioned, but can only answer what they know. This leaves the detectives without much to go on and with no way of knowing who the flesh and eyeball came from. But the woman hadn’t returned since Kume saw her fly away.
At a train station, Kume congratulates Shiro on his full recovery. He asks if Shiro has plans to find a job in Tokyo, expressing that it’s a shame he doesn’t stay since he could introduce him to people he knows. Moriguchi is thankful for the offer but declines, saying that he feels he needs to start anew someplace else in order to escape the shadow of that woman. Though, when Shiro’s train leaves the station, Kume sees a large black bird following behind it. He eventually receives a postcard from Shiro, not hearing anything about the bird woman, in fact he seems to be doing just fine! This allows Kume to brush off what he saw as being a kite or an eagle.
Three years later, Shiro Moriguchi was found dead in a frozen crater on the summit of Mount Fuji. They also discover that the meat and eyeball from earlier matched his own DNA, meaning that during the time of his horrible fall, Moriguchi was being fed the flesh and blood of his future self. His belongings were found near his corpse, including his journal with the details of what had happened in his last few days of being alive and frightened. She entered his locked apartment and started taking bite after bite of his flesh. He tried to move overseas, but she quickly found him and flew him to the summit of Mount Fuji. Cold, distressed, and alone, he passed away.
It appears to be winter as Kume goes out birdwatching in the forest again, thinking about the findings after Moriguchi’s mysterious death; When he hears something rustling in the tree near by. He turns around, startled by the bird woman, perched on a tree branch above him. Kume steps back, and with no more ground left, he falls down a cliff and breaks his leg. She readily flies down with her cheeks full. She feeds Kume mouth-to-mouth, as he notes its unpleasant taste.
I had an entire post planned out, depicting all sorts of theories I came up with. I investigated the kanji of their names, the meanings, what the backstory could be, even speculating how this bird woman functions based on my findings…
Until I admitted myself into a mental hospital, staying there for seven days and seven nights. It allowed me to look at this story in a different way. I’m sure my interpretation isn’t truly what it’s about, nonetheless this is what it personally means to me.
It appears to me like the Blackbird is the embodiment of Depression as she only comes to Moriguchi when he is most isolated and defenseless. Technically, since Shiro was being fed meat from his future self, he was the one keeping himself alive. Much like depression, there are times where we can get ourselves through completely on our own, but it comes at the cost of our own lifespan. People with severe mental illness, such as Bipolar or Depression, have a life expectancy of 10 to 25 years less than people without mental illness. Yes, that does include suicide, however this premature mortality is mostly cause by physical chronic medical conditions. People with severe mental illness often don’t get the proper care that they need, as their mental health deteriorates their physical health. I believe Shrio Moriguchi partly expresses these facts. He received wonderful care for his injured legs, but he didn’t get the treatment he needed for his Depression. This resulted in his physical debilitation and mental decline.
Then we have Kume, he was finally able to scare off the Blackbird for some time, as he was Shiro’s only support system. However, Moriguchi continued to distance himself, allowing the Depression to creep in once more. Why did the Blackbird target Kume? Well, relying on one person to be there for you, night after night as the lady shrouded in darkness overcomes you. That person being the only one you entrust with your woes and traumas. They are the only one you depend on to help stave off your Depression. Imagine that person, waiting to read your letters or postcards, making sure that you are okay, only to later find out that you did not survive. You have been taken by the Blackbird, your Depression. That can severely impact someone’s mental health. That is why it’s important to have a support system of not only friends and family (of origin or otherwise), but also of medical professionals that you trust. Kume did his best to be there for Moriguchi, even offering to introduce him to more people, which would allow Shiro to build up a support system. However, Moriguchi did what he thought would be best, resulting in him inadvertently isolating himself further and further into the Blackbird’s grasp. Even in his time of desperation he turned to old habits of writing in his journal, pleading for help in those pages without the intention of reaching out as well. Being trapped in an icy cold hollow atop Mount Fuji is the perfect representation of his severe isolation.
I know this all too well, the devastation your loved one feels as they watch you deteriorate. You fall deeper and deeper into dysfunction, while they are helpless to do much more than to hold your hand through the nightly crises. Kume was there for Moriguchi, accepting all of his issues and willing to confront the Blackbird, even keeping it from coming back for some time. He was open and ready to carry some of the crushing weight that Shiro had been burdened with his entire life. Thus, falling victim to the debilitating gravity of Depression that Moriguchi could no longer cope with. Falling prey to the Blackbird chewing away at his future self. Little by little, bite by bite; Depression can take days, even years off your life.
Yes, my interpretation is rather… depressing. But I do believe it is important to recognize your unhealthy patterns, the patterns that detail your decline. In addition to reaching out for help when you feel yourself isolating further into the harsh depths of your inner turmoil. Not only that, but it’s spooky week! What is possibly more terrifying than confronting the realities of your mental illness?
Of course I wouldn’t just leave you hanging like that! Here are some links for more information on not only how to reach out, but also what kind of help you can expect in terms of calling a suicide hotline or hospitalization. As well as what type of therapy might be better for you and what your options are if you can’t afford it: