What is Assassins about?
Assassins is a story that starts off at full speed and really doesn’t slow down too much. A man named Tetsuo stumbles upon the violent attack against a young woman who we as the reader know as Tomie. The rescuer gets her back to his apartment and tries to nurse her back to health. However, it is in vain as she dies in front of him, but not before she makes a final wish. Tetsuo carries out her wish, which is to have her buried out of the way in some secluded place. But as he’s about to leave the buried corpse, a very strange thing happens.
He hears a voice from beneath the ground he had just dug. After re-uncovering the body he finds a second head, identical to the body’s regular head, growing from the chest area. This new head is the only part of the body left alive and demands itself to be cut out. He does so and takes the living head back to his apartment in secret. As the head slowly regenerates, it makes demands on Tetsuo for fine foods and expensive jewellery. It seems that this head is closer in nature to the Tomie that we know and love than the one attacked at the beginning of the story.
As the story moves forward we find that more would-be assassins lurk around the corner. But which version of Tomie will live on to tell her story? Will Tetsuo live out this crazy situation? Whatever ends up happening, I’m willing to bet that he regrets helping that initial Tomie from certain doom in those opening pages.
A great sense of humour
It’s all too easy within horror manga for the humour to be completely overshadowed by the violence on the page. But what Junji Ito manages to do, perhaps most obviously in this chapter, is display such a great sense of humour within his stories. I think he would be the first to admit just how absurd the idea of a talking face on a pillow would be, but it’s no less effective for the story. He manages to let the audience know that he’s in on the joke too.
The idea of feeding a face on a pillow is so outrageous. Then her spitting it out to yell “Where’s your Caviar? Your Foie Gras?”. The idea that this girl is so in demand of fine things that she would still demand such fancy foods. And when she demands an expensive necklace and Tetsuo says the thing that we are all thinking – “You don’t even have a neck. What would you do with it, anyway?”.
I just love the humour to bits. It doesn’t make a mockery of the story; it simply pokes fun at itself just a little bit.
Wrong place, wrong time
Normally, the people who become entangled in Tomie’s mind games do so in their places of work or home. She would enter their lives and basically drive them to madness. But in Assassins, it is those unfortunate to cross paths with her who end up suffering. Such as Tetsuo who only wanted to help a woman in need, or the young man we see later who discovered her in the mountain woodlands.
We are again subjected to Tomie’s complete disregard of other people’s thoughts, feelings or even lives. She is a user who will make her victims do absolutely anything to help her achieve her end goal. I think my original theory of her having a hive mind stands up here too. The original Tomie from the opening speaks of events that happened between Tetsuo and the head that was cut from her body. As though there were a psychic link between the two. But of course she uses this knowledge solely for Tetsuo’s manipulation.
It is chapters such as this one that make it hard to like Tomie. I mean, I always enjoy her for the character that she is; there have been moments in the past where I couldn’t help but like her a little bit. However, this chapter was not one of those moments for me.
I love Assassins for how breakneck the pace is. It never really lets up from that opening attack on Tomie to the closing actions of the hero-of-the-hour, Tetsuo.
This idea of each of the Tomie’s trying to kill each other off was first seen in the Basement chapter, but wasn’t really investigated after this. Even in the closing panels of Waterfall Basin, the numerous versions of her that arise, do so in unison, not against one another. So it was great to see this internal conflict between Tomie and her “siblings” – for want of a better term – explored further here.