What is Marionette Mansion about?
In Marionette Mansion we follow Haruhiko – a boy from a travelling entertainment family. Him and his family move from town to town putting on their puppet shows for the townspeople. Because of this, the young boy is unable to settle down and make any lasting friendships.
Whilst staying in one particular town, Haruhiko befriends a girl before having to move on again. Whilst they have their short time together, he shows her his family’s travelling home and the puppets that they work with. One puppet in particular creeps the girl out, causing her to knock it to the floor out of shock. This puppet’s name is Jean Pierre.
Years later, after his brother left them and their father had passed away, Haruhiko and his sister Natsumi are living a simple life together. Everything is fine and dandy when all of a sudden he bumps into the girl he had befriended all those years earlier. With them now both adults and seemingly settled in their lives, they start to grow closer. But this is a Junji Ito story, and you know that the happiness doesn’t stop there.
Haruhiko also discovers that the brother who had left them, has been living close by for some time and urges them to visit. To Haruhiko’s and Natsumi’s surprise, the door is answered by none other than Jean Pierre. Yer that’s right – Jean Pierre the puppet. We discover how the older brother and the family he now has live the lives of puppets on strings – quite litterally. But how will Haruhiko adjust to not only getting back in touch with his brother, but also getting used to their unconventional way of living.
Who’s pulling the strings?
I won’t lie – I have found this story harder to write about than most of the horror manga stories I have previously. Not because of anything I can put my finger on though. It is just a really weird story that seems to raise the question “Who is pulling the strings”. Of course, the family at the start literally pull the strings of the puppets in their travelling show. But in the later years of the brothers’ lives, that role seems to be reversed.
The fact that Jean Pierre – a seemingly inanimate puppet – welcomes them at the door, let me know that this was going to be an odd one. I realise that Junji Ito is known for how strange and infintitely imaginative his mangas tend to be. But in Marionette Mansion there seems to be a sense of whimsy to the whole thing. Like he is simply having fun playing with these characters and literally pulling their strings for them on the page.
After reading this in the Shiver Collection I also read the accomponying backstory of the manga that comes with each chapter. In it Junji Ito says:
…I’d like to hang my upper body from the ceiling. How lovely would it be to leave my body like that and get the work done? This story came from thoughts like these…Junji Ito talking about the origin of the story for Marionette Mansion
Despite Ito’s explanation of the story’s genesis, I still can’t help but try to find extra meanings. I thought that the “family on strings” could be a metaphor for not being in control of one’s own life. The welcoming of Haruhiko and the younger sister, Natsumi, into the house presents a danger to their way of life. This danger is especially true for Natsumi, who is still very much young and impressionable.
I think of Marionette Mansion as a tale of fighting that urge to have everything in life done for you. To fight against handing over responsibilities to others for the sake of living an “easy” life. I liked how the main character fought his side of the argument and does his utmost to protect himself and Natsumi, no matter what pressures get placed on him.
This is an enjoyable story that came across as a lighter read than other mangas in Ito’s large body of work. Nothing in this story made me want to look away in disgust. However, there are still some nice gruesome moments to keep your pallet salivated.