Here’s why Enigma of Amigara Fault is a must-read for any fan of horror manga.
Junji Ito, the Eisner-winning indisputable manga master of horror, has numerous great stories to begin choosing from. Ito’s short stories manage to entice and captivate effortlessly. The Enigma of Amigara Fault is no exception.
The Enigma of Amigara Fault is a short story found at the end of the second volume of Gyo. It manages to effortlessly weave together body horror with existential and psychological horrors.
After a major earthquake struck H-
REDACTED prefecture, a deep fault line stretching countless miles was formed near the epicenter on the northern slope of the Amigara mountain. A young man by the name of Owaki encounters a lady by the name of Yoshida; both of whom have found themselves perplexingly and inexplicably drawn to the mountain; as if something was calling out for them in the primordial recesses of their brains. It is revealed that it’s not only the country of Japan that is enigmatically drawn to this fault line, rather all over the world people feel the same primal fascination.
The fault line is revealed to have an untold myriad of holes that are human-shaped. From babies all the way the elderly, there appears to be a hole corresponding to countless people. Horrifyingly, a given hole seems to mentally connect with whoever’s shape perfectly fits, and it calls out to them triggering a primeval instinct to locate the crater that belongs to you and enter it.
A man named Nakagaki was the first to discover and accept his determined fate and is never heard from again. Owaki has a dream where he is in the body of Nakagaki and finds himself trapped deep inside the mountain with no way of moving. Yoshida would soon discover the hole shaped to her silhouette before becoming overcome by an incomprehensible wave of terror. She notes how it seems to call out to her, beckoning her own entrance. Her testimony confirms the suspicions that there is an inexplicable subconscious desire to enter through the hole designed for a given person.
Owaki attempts to console Yoshida and covers up the Yoshida-shaped hole by filling it in with rocks. As the two lie down together in a tent, Owaki has another strange out-of-body dream. In this one, he dreams of a different era, where he committed horrific crimes and was sentenced to death. Whenever someone committed a crime of such magnitude they would be sentenced to death.
To carry out the punishment, the people of the past would dig out innumerable human-shaped holes into the mountain carved in such a way that the person designed for it can enter but can never retreat. The holes, however, begin to transform the further one is in the mountain. This causes incomprehensible anguish as it slowly reshapes and stretches the prisoner’s body as they move through it.
He wakes up in a cold sweat after the vivid dream only to find out that Yoshida is missing from the tent. To his terror, he has a gut feeling about where she is, however he prays that he would be proven wrong. As he approaches the Yoshida-shaped hole he discovers that the rocks that he used to cover it have been removed, and to his chagrin, Yoshida has entered. Feeling despondent from the senseless loss of a new friend, Owaki sits in silence for a while contemplating what has happened. He drops his flashlight shining on the mountain to reveal the human-shaped hole belonging to him, and with eyes glazed in a trance, he decides to enter it.
A few months later, another team of researchers on the opposite end of the mountain discover what appear to be elongated cracks, similar to the human-shaped holes in design yet so stretched that they appear to look like a bundle of roots. As the researchers gaze into the crevices, they see a figure approaching them. This figure is revealed to be a human, possibly Owaki, who had entered their human-shaped hole and had become unrecognizably deformed by the stretching process creating a veritable monster inching closer to escape.
Junji Ito effortlessly manages to weave together psychological, body, and existential horror together in this self-contained short story. The psychological horror aspect is strongest and most prevalent in the inexplicable subconscious desire of every human being in the short manga to enter their hole once they discover it. The inexplicable psychological desire to want to destroy oneself is a harrowing theme of the story and can be found in another work of Ito’s “The Hanging Balloons.”
The body horror aspect of the work is found entirely at the end where it is revealed that the goal of the hole in Amigara is not to imprison them but to deform them into a monstrous appearance. The walls having been designed to prevent any backtracking forces whoever enters to undergo a horrific bodily transformation by forcibly stretching their limbs from the pressure of wriggling through the carved mountain. Considering Junji Ito’s extremely impressive Kafkaesque body horror in the past with titles like The Hanging Balloon, The Long Dream, Honored Ancestors, and Uzumaki, this story is relatively tame when it comes to the amount of body horror contained.
The existential horror presented is largely found in the form of how Owaki believes that he is remembering instead of dreaming when he dreams of the primitive society punishing their criminals. Going along with this, it triggers existential horror by the knowledge of reincarnation and the erosion of free will. After all, the shapes on the rock were specifically fitted to the frame of everyone at the same corresponding time; implying there is some maliciously predetermined fate awaiting everyone who commits a certain evil in a past life.
Ito also allows for audience participation in their own theories about the unexplainable human-shaped holes. Although in Owaki’s dream, he pictures a society from eons ago that punished its people by deforming them in mountains; the audience can’t help but shrug the eerie feeling that there is more to the story than is being let on.
For example, it is entirely unexplained how a rudimentary and primitive people would be capable of meticulously carving human shapes into a mountain that stretches and deforms as one enters deeper and deeper. The artisanal skill and technology required for such a feat far surpasses even modern human technology with its intricacy, let alone in primitive society.
This leads to the existential horror possibility that some technologically advanced creature designed these holes with a near-omniscient knowledge of how humanity would evolve. With this in mind, it reinforces a predetermined destiny that humans are meant to deform themselves this way. Potentially, the creator of humanity was attempting to signal the next stage in human evolution; reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001; A Space Odyssey. This would also conform with the subconscious primeval desire of every human in this story to locate and enter their destined hole; as if an erudite creator had the blueprint of humanity in mind when sculpting these holes and humanity itself. However, this is simply speculation and part of the fun of reading Ito’s works.
This story is another example of how Junji Ito has mastered the art of ambiguity. He has an exceptional understanding of how much information to insert yet retains enough to keep the entertained audience forming conclusions of their own. Junji Ito’s understanding of the perfect amount of information to leave obscured rivals that of Lovecraft and occasionally even Tolkien. The indisputable manga master of horror is Junji Ito and The Enigma of Amigara Fault is a fantastic gem of a short story.
Dan McMahon is an Anime Features Writer for CBR.
He favors writing about that which impassions him such as anime, manga, and comic books. Dan’s personal hobbies include inline-skating, reading, whittling, cooking, mixology, and aviation.
He/Him or They/Them @Dan_E_McMahon