By Asa Nonami
Genre: Horror, short stories
Trigger Warning: If you are deeply affected by eating disorders, surgical addictions, and sexual predatation (more specifically molestation) do not read this book.
I originally saw B0dy on a “Top 10 Japanese Horror Novel” list and then on several Ladies of Horror Fiction recommended reading lists. The beautiful cover intrigued me. I only had an inkling of the subject matter of these short stories and I refused to read spoiler filled reviews. When I think of JHorror, my mind goes to the Yurei (ghost) or onryo (vengeful spirits) movies like the Ringu and Ju-on. Spirits of people wronged in life that stain the fabric of reality of the living that carelessly cross their path.
The horror of B0dy is more firmly rooted in reality. Ordinary people living their lives in the shadow of an ideal that they aren’t good enough. Women wanting to look younger and thinner to maintain the Japanese ideal of blossoming beauty. A man wanting desperately to keep his hair linking his own attractiveness to his ability to do well in his work and virility. A husband sexually dissatisfied by his marriage and desperately seeking fulfillment. An abused, orphaned pre-teen that doesn’t want to be a victim anymore.
Without spoiling too much here are the sypnosis of the stories:
Bored housewife, Aiko gets talked into getting a facial lift to remove wrinkles after taking her youngest daughter, Minako in for a plastic surgery consultation to modify the shape of her belly button. The surgeries are done out of defiance and spite for the father/husband who ignores his family for work and restricts them from using family funds for most purchases though the wife is the one that manages the household’s affairs. When the husband comments after the first surgery that his wife has put on weight, she goes out of her way to continue to change herself.
Dissatisfied husband, Fumiya resorts to brushing himself against young women with attractive knees on the train. He gets caught and desperately seeks release somewhere else. After an accident, he finds satisfaction in inflicting small amounts of pain on people… This man’s search for sexual release gets increasingly bizarre as different venues are shut off to him.
Self-absorbed office worker, Masao is distant from his girlfriend. He doesn’t really care about her but he is starting to see his hairline thinning, reminding him that if he waits much longer to get married, he’ll be bald and alone. He toys with whether or not he just wants to settle for his girlfriend and marry her before he goes completely bald. One day, a friend offers him the opportunity to be a part of experimental test group for a hair loss prevention drug.
Mean girl, Hiroe, ends up getting accepted to highly respected high school through no effort of her own. Left without friends, the once popular girl is isolated and insecure with her, well, everything. She’s not considered fashionable or intelligent or desirable by the Tokyo crowd and one popular girl makes fun of her weight. This leads her in a desperate attempt to an eating disorder to shape her body into something thin enough to let her fit in.
Atsushi is a middle school drop out living on his own. Working odd jobs to keep himself afloat. He is smaller than other boys his age and is a constant target of abuse until one rainy day, a mysterious man saves from a savage beating. Full of rage, Atsushi stalks the streets for his next prey but the mysterious man intervenes. “Aim for someone stronger than yourself.” is the advice that drives him to join a boxing gym.
These stories resonate with how real these problems and issues are.
In an age of Body Positivity, plastic surgery and even Snapchat filters, people fixate on their appearance. Cameras are everywhere and you could become an influencer if enough people like your pictures or posts.
It gets under your skin to see these horribly flawed, weak characters struggled with their self-image or sense of self-worth. They want to be beautiful, young, desired and strong but they need to kill the people that they were to get there. At what point would you be willing to stop in your quest for fulfillment? Are we all just a knife slice or pound away from physical perfection? Do we need pills to make us more desirable to others? Do we need to destroy and reforge our bodies through pain and struggle to kill the fear and weakness of our past?
These are modern concerns that transcend cultural boundaries. Nonami challenges us to reflect on our limits and how we treat other people. Would the characters of B0dy drowned in their dysmorphia if someone had given them a sense that they were enough, that they were loved? Would they have listened?
And the worst part is that Nonami doesn’t give us closure for these stories when they finally crash to a close. Should they? What ending are we truly hoping for them? Do we want them to learn, to be punished or to get the help they desperately need? It’s left open for us to fill in the void.
Nonami warns us that as we strive for an illusion of perfection, we are our worst enemies. The damage we inflict upon ourselves bodies not only scars our bodies but our souls. This psychological horror collection is for someone that wants to touch that inner darkness without getting blood on their hands.
4 of 5 stars.