Weird and Wonderful: “Tomie”

If you’re a fan of manga, there’s no doubt you’ve heard the name Junji Ito. The master of horror has produced some of the most hair-raising works – literally – in comic history, but it all began with the story of one beautiful teenage girl, Tomie.

Tomie panel

Tomie is a manga series revolving around the mysterious, unkillable titular girl. Tomie is a master of deception and getting what she wants, the attention of men. However, every man that falls in love with her develops an insatiable urge to kill her in the most brutal ways imaginable. No matter how many men kill her, and how many wounds she gets, she always comes back with a vengeance – and often an army of clones.


This was the story that helped Ito break into the manga industry, and for good reason. Horror books and comics are generally harder to nail than films or television shows, but once I opened Tomie I couldn’t stop until it was done.


Tomie perfectly balances psychological and body horror, sprinkling in gore and dread in equal measure. Each story slowly builds, leaving hints along the way for the ultimate reveal. Pages upon pages of a lake where corpses disappear was terrifying alone, but when the creatures hiding in that lake turned out to be even scarier I realized that all 752 pages of this story would be relentless. Just when I thought there would be some sort of relief, Junji Ito showed me a display of death I never could have dreamed up in my worst nightmares.  

The scariest thing about Tomie is not the fact that she asexually reproduces evil copies, or that she drives men crazy enough to hack her skull into pieces. The most horrifying thing about this girl is the fact that no matter how hard you try, you will never kill her. Just like other iconic horror villains, like Michael Myers or Freddie Krueger, Tomie is a stand-in for the fears that we cannot tame. She is as essential to the world as the concept of fear, and as such her reign of terror is unstoppable even to the very last manga panel. 


Also like other villains, Tomie has a fatal fear of her own. Like many women, Tomie dreads losing her beauty and youth. Although it seems at first that Tomie’s stories are loosely connected, by the end of her saga it’s clear that she is as much prey as she is predator. The connection, lingering in the background of melting flesh and freshly-grown heads, is that Tomie’s power stems from her vanity. Many of the questions I had about her nature can be solved by keeping this in mind. Why can there only be one supreme Tomie? Why can’t she age? Why is she impossible to capture, both figuratively through art and literally? It’s indisputable that Tomie is evil, but this flaw expertly humanizes her at turning points in the overarching narrative. I even found myself feeling bad for her in flashbacks of bullying and implied abuse, but watching her use these as fuel for torturing innocent people pushed me right back over the edge into hatred.

Ito’s first tale of terror is often cited as one of the greatest manga of all time, and it’s still getting attention decades after its release. Despite a lack of successful adaptations, Tomie remains perhaps more relevant than ever. In a world where we carefully count Instagram likes and study the best ways to Photoshop our bodies, the endless life of Tomie serves as a warning. Who are we without our image? The answer may be lurking in the basement of your local hospital, around the corner from your home, or even enveloped in the darkness of your closet.

Weird and Wonderful: “Wild at Heart”

The name David Lynch typically calls to mind dark, surreal depictions of dreams and fears. From Eraserhead to Twin Peaks: The Return, Lynch has masterfully crafted worlds that force us to consider what might happen if our nightmares came to life. For the most part Lynch seems loyal to his motifs, but there are a few cases in which he follows a more straightforward story — Elephant Man, The Straight Story, and the romantic black comedy Wild at Heart. Lynch films tend to age like a fine wine, initially receiving negative responses from critics and later becoming cult classics. Wild at Heart was no exception upon its controversial win at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, but I’m inclined to agree with the jury: this film is one you can’t miss.

Based on the 1989 novel of the same name, Wild at Heart stars Laura Dern as Lula, an energetic Southern belle, and Nicholas Cage as Sailor, an Elvis caricature with a criminal background. Lula and Sailor are separated by prison bars after Sailor is arrested for murder (although technically in self defense), but nothing can separate these lovestruck hooligans once Sailor is up for parole. Lula’s mother Marietta (Diane Ladd) decides to take matters into her own hands by hiring two hit men to kill Sailor, so the couple goes on the run. As they venture on a cross-country odyssey they run into no shortage of violence, from a fatal car crash to a robbery gone wrong. Things take a turn for the worst when Sailor joins forces with gangster Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), and it seems as though the sun has set on this magical, thrilling romance.


This film is melodramatic to the core, but don’t mistake this for a bad thing. The soap opera acting of Cage and Dern is delightfully over-the-top, as are the side characters. Lynch has a way of distilling a character to their essence, the isolated thing that makes them unconventional, and Wild at Heart expertly shows how this can be utilized to elicit every emotion. There were moments in the film that made me tense or uncomfortable, but there were also moments that made me laugh out loud. Then, there were moments like Lula and Sailor stopping on the side of the road to dance to thrash metal: goofy, perhaps unrealistic, but sincere. Despite Lula and Sailor living in a world entirely built around extremes, their love feels genuine. When Sailor returns from more time away, he initially rejects the idea of returning to Lula, but after a fight and a Wizard of Oz hallucination, hops over traffic to get to Lula, finally able to sing to her again. Therein lies the charm of Wild at Heart: tragic backstories, traumatic experiences, and rash decisions amplify the chaos surrounding this couple, but they can tune it all out through their love. In this film, every feeling is a grand gesture. Whether it’s the eerie feeling that something is about to go horribly wrong or the rush of being reunited with your soulmate, Lynch makes it feel as though we are witnessing the full range of human emotions in a two-hour trek across the southern U.S.

Not only is the film entertaining to watch because of the characters and plot, but it is stylish as hell. If I wasn’t already enthused by the melodrama, Cage’s snakeskin jacket and pop culture references were sure to hook me. Laura Dern’s fabulous 80s rocker outfits, a jazz-rock soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti, and the stunning usage of color are just as aesthetically pleasing. Lynch himself described the film as “a picture about finding love in Hell,” and also described it as “truthful in some way.” Although it may be campy, Wild at Heart shows that in a world filled with violence and disaster, real love is still out there. Sailor’s willingness to fight for Lula, and her unconditional loyalty to him, are the bright spot in a story that should end terribly. The dynamic between all of the characters is what drew me in — between Sailor’s bluntness, Lula’s passion, Bobby Peru’s predatory nature, and Marietta’s lost grip on reality, the film also reminds us that sometimes humanity really can be absurd. This is the truth that Lynch describes, found under layers of comedy and fear, juxtaposed against one another with a heavy dosage of style. The film is just as Lula describes the world: “wild at heart and weird on top.”


Wild at Heart can also be categorized as a road movie, and I believe it’s a ride everyone should take. For those who are already familiar with Lynch’s work, there will be plenty of familiar faces, such as Grace Zabriskie, Sherilyn Fenn, and Harry Dean Stanton. If you’re new to the director, however, this film is the perfect introduction to his particularly strange method of storytelling. Unfortunately the film isn’t available to stream, but if you can get your hands on a physical copy it is absolutely worth the watch.


“If you are truly wild at heart, you’ll fight for your dreams”


Weird and Wonderful: “Graveyard Keeper”

Gaming is one of my biggest hobbies, and something I already write about regularly for the Michigan Daily. Over the past year especially, I’ve grown obsessed with simulation games. Animal Crossing New Horizons and Stardew Valley are two that have completely taken over the world of gaming, but there’s a ton of variety in the genre. One of the best examples of a unique management sim is Graveyard Keeper, which I recently got hooked on.

Graveyard Keeper begins with your character being magically transported from the present day to medieval times. Once there, it’s decided by a talking skull and a bishop that you are to be the new graveyard keeper. Shortly thereafter, you get – you guessed it – your very first corpse to bury!


The main quest line of the game revolves around you trying to find your way home, but along the way you learn to manage the graveyard, climb the church leadership ladder, and use the locals and their resources to your advantage. One of your first quests is gathering wood and iron to fix the gravesites you’ve inherited, which unlocks a slew of side quests. 


Much of the game revolves around these side quests, whether that’s smuggling magical items from the nearby town or increasing the success rate of your sermons. Each completed side quest earns you points with characters, which can be exchanged for information, items, or further quests. 

Another aspect of the game that is surprisingly complex is the technology system, in which the player can spend three types of points on new “technologies”. There are eight different categories to upgrade, each with their own point requirements. These points are earned through specific actions — red points via physical labor, green via interacting with nature, and blue via studying and writing. Managing these points and unlocking technologies is key to completing quests, as it goes hand-in-hand with resource management.


The gameplay loop of gathering materials, crafting, unlocking technologies, finishing quests, and repeat is addicting. Every time I enter the world of Graveyard Keeper, I end up playing for hours without realizing it. The “just one more quest” mentality takes over, and I find myself wanting to keep unlocking new content to see what lies ahead for my little time traveler.


Not only is the gameplay unique and intricate, but the visual component of the game is as well. The pixel art is devilishly delightful, including the tiniest of details. Miniature skulls remain after witch burnings, flowers made of a mere few pixels dot the landscape, and little stone grave fences have defined texture.

The games’s developers, indie studio Lazy Bear Games, advertise Graveyard Keeper as “the most inaccurate medieval graveyard management game,” and even if there was competition, this game would still win my heart with its dark-yet-wacky narrative and charming stylistic details. For those who, like myself, are entertained by macabre humor, this casual game will quickly become one of your most played.


Graveyard Keeper is available on PC, Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android.

Weird and Wonderful: “Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman”

Into… the paradise of sweets!

Best TV Shows to Watch on Netflix: Kantaro the Sweet Tooth Salaryman – Ro's Recz


There’s a wide range of anime, from hyper-violent revenge stories to slice of life romances, but what defines anime as a genre is simply that it is (or is influenced by) 2D Japanese animation. Netflix’s “Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman” has made me question if that should even be considered fact at all. The 2017 adaptation of the manga “Saboriman Ametani Kantarou,” written by Tensei Hagiwara and Abidi Inoue, has all the wacky tropes and bizarre characterization that one could want in a comedy anime, but live action.


“Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman” follows the titular Kantaro (Matsuya Onoe), a salesman in the publishing industry, as he races against the clock to complete his sales visits so he can play hooky to eat desserts. At the office he appears to be almost too serious, but secretly he runs a dessert review blog called “Amablo” and writes under a pseudonym — “Sweets Knight”. Not only are the hands of time against him in his noble pursuit of sweets, but his coworker Kanako is onto him, monitoring his every move.


Kantaro the Sweet Tooth Salaryman' Is Your Next Netflix Binge-Watch | GQ


Although the dessert shops Kantaro visits are real restaurants in Japan, his out-of-body experiences with food get extremely weird. As soon as he digs in, he becomes the dessert, and is transported into an ethereal plane filled with other sweets. Heavenly music serves as the backdrop for Kantaro’s near-sensual monologues as the world around him turns to dessert. Slow motion shots show syrup cascading gracefully down mountains of red beans, and the show suddenly seems more like an otherworldly food and travel show than a comedy.


Onoe’s acting is impeccable as Kantaro switches from complete stoicism to goofily dramatic ecstasy. The rest of the show’s cast is equally talented at taking the personality of their characters to the extreme. In reality, Kantaro’s situation would be simple, so the pure melodrama of it all is what makes the show genius. This combination of over-the-top acting, exaggerated conflict, and dreamlike moments is what makes the show feel closer to anime than real life.


Kantaro’s obsession with sweets, as strange as it plays out on screen, is a reminder to enjoy the little things in life and do what you love. Despite all the obstacles presented to him, Kantaro never fails his mission, and it only makes him work harder. Though his motivation may be out of the ordinary, I think we can all be a little more like him — going after what brings us joy, no matter what others think.


The show’s willingness to get as unabashedly weird as possible is another aspect I deeply appreciate. At points, it’s almost uncomfortable to watch due to Kantaro’s expressions becoming somewhat of an innuendo, but this just left me wanting to watch more. It’s almost like a challenge to the viewer: continue watching if you dare, but it only gets weirder from here.

Kantaro the Sweet Tooth Salaryman] : r/animenocontext


The cherry on top? This show is pretty bite-size, with only twelve episodes. If you’re looking to indulge in something that will make you laugh and ask “what the heck am I watching,” then “Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman” is a perfect pick — and don’t forget a dessert to enjoy with it.




Weird and Wonderful: The Poetry of e e cummings

My first exposure to the groundbreaking modernist poet e e cummings was “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r”:

Poem by e.e. cummings

Although it was incomprehensible to me the first time I saw it, I immediately fell in love. That was my senior year of high school, and now as I prepare to write my senior thesis as part of the creative writing subconcentration, I’ve been revisiting the works that changed my view of poetry.


Cummings, most often stylized as “e e cummings”, was not the first to use the freedom of the blank page to his advantage. However, his distinct style and whimsical tone have led him to become one of the most well recognized writers of his time. While much of his work is centered around nature and love, he also explores class, war, and human existence. Making frequent use of enjambment (line breaks) and parentheses, Cummings created his own poetic lexicon to describe everyday circumstances in idiosyncratic ways. One iconic example of this is the poem “in Just-“, which pictures approaching adolescence as a menacing force:

the poem "in Just-" by e e cummings


Like every writer, I experience roadblocks often while working on my own poetry. My biggest struggle, besides finding inspiration, is feeling pigeonholed into one “type” of poetry. Cummings, however, was unafraid of experimentation. Some of his poetry takes the classical form of a sonnet, and others drift across the page, mixing letters and punctuation until all that’s left is the essence of a feeling. Reading Cummings’s work reminds me that I’m free to explore as a writer, and that change is not only welcome, but encouraged. Even poems that, on first glance, seem nonsensical — such as “!/o(rounD)moon,how…” — are celebrated, not because they stuck firmly to poetic tradition, but because they changed what people imagined poetry could be.

Cummings’s scrambled syntax also shows that language is not static. In the age of the internet, it seems as though there’s a new, trendy phrase every week. Even when they seem invented from nothing, they are still seen as valid words that seamlessly become a part of English — just as the word “poetry” did in the late 1300s. The poetry of E.E. Cummings combines the ever-changing nature of language with the turbulence of life itself, and his presence can be felt everywhere in contemporary poetry, and even in other writing genres as well (for example, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer’s artist book Tree of Codes). As I dive into the process of writing a collection for the first time, I can only hope that Cummings’s strange, yet lasting, influence can be felt in my work, too.

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

Weird and Wonderful: A Trilogy of Camp

Hello everyone! My name is Harper, and I’m glad to be back writing “Weird and Wonderful” after a long break. This year, I want to continue sharing films, music, shows, and more that are outside the mainstream. For my first post this semester, here are three out-of-the-box films I watched over summer and fall that I highly recommend.


The Stuff (1985) directed by Larry Cohen

Are you eating it…or is it eating you?

Within the first five minutes of The Stuff, a wandering man finds mysterious white goop on the ground, leans down, and eats it. This campy, satirical horror film asks the questions that’s on everyone’s mind: what if ice cream was evil? Over the course of its tight 87 minute runtime, we follow Jason (Scott Bloom), a young boy whose family has fallen prey to an addicting dessert that crawls in the night. Joining forces with former FBI agent Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) and ad executive Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), the three set out to stop The Stuff at its source with the help of some wacky sidekicks. I can only describe this film as “David Cronenberg meets The Blob — if the titular blob was a delicious, national sensation”. At its core, The Stuff is a brilliant satire of American consumerism that will leave you absolutely dumbfounded.


The Wizard (1989) directed by Todd Holland

I love the Power Glove, it’s so bad.

The first half of The Wizard‘s plot sounds like a drama: Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) suffers from PTSD after a family death, so he and his brother Corey (Fred Savage) journey cross-country to California. On the way, they pick up young drifter Haley (Jenny Lewis), who witnesses Jimmy’s gaming prowess and encourages him to enter a Nintendo tournament. That’s right, this film is actually one big, cheesy Nintendo ad, specifically for Super Mario Bros. 3. Hilariously overt product placement and a bizarre series of events for a gaggle of children will fill you with a sense of wonder at how this movie was ever popular, but its charm will win you over at its heartwarming conclusion. This film also has an insane easter egg for those with a keen eye: near the end, an uncredited young Toby Maguire can be seen in the background — and I think that’s all the motivation you need.


Possibly in Michigan (1983) directed by Cecelia Condit

Love shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.

This musical horror story is only 12 minutes long, but it’s borderline indescribable. A story about two women, Sharon and Janice, who face the threat of a stalker, this is a surreal experience not for the faint of heart. The editing is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and the musical motifs are creepier than some actual horror movies I’ve watched. The ending twist will leave you with your mouth on the floor, begging for an explanation. Possibly in Michigan is a delightfully devilish work that challenges representations of women and violence. Bonus points: the entire thing is free to watch on YouTube!