Glyceride (Junji Ito): The Absence of the Mother. (1000 words)
I’ve been trying to interpret Junji Ito’s Tomie, Gyo and Spiral on a metaphorical level but so far, even though quite a few elements are easy to interpret, others remain too obscure or complex for me to find an entirely coherent reading.
It’s not hard to find a coherent metaphorical interpretation to Glyceride on the contrary.
Glyceride is the horrible story of a family of three : Yui, the main character, her brother Goro and their father who owns a fried food restaurant above which they all live.
« Mum had long since gone, » Yui explains. And it’s quite easy to interpret the story as a metaphore for the consequences of the mother’s absence.
On the first page, Yui builds an opposition between a viewpoint from which she likes to admire the mount Fuji and her house.
The house is a shadow cast upon beauty. Its presence is threatening, opaque, impenetrable, treacherous.
Because of the restaurant on the first floor, the interior of the apartment above is constantly covered in grease. But not only, another reason is given to this omnipresence of grease : the departure of the mother who used to take care of the cleaning. The father being too busy with his work, he doesn’t have time to clean up the apartment properly and the children eventually gave up against the perpetual return of the grease.
So the grease appeared when the mother left.
The father himself is described as « oily. » He smells like grease, he perspires grease. It’s easy to perceive him as purely malevolent but I believe that the dynamics of the story are more complex than that. Of course, he is going to murder his son and feed him to his clients. He is going to force-feed oil to his daughter during her sleep and will eventually cut off his leg, probably to feed it to his clients. He clearly is not a saint. But, as often with Junji Ito, the characters are close to be nothing more than slaves to their urges and morality isn’t a very influencial variable.
Grease is thus associated with the mother but also with the father (fried food restaurant).
Women are more easily associated with grease than men. Breasts are made of fat. Female round shapes are fat. Women put on weight during pregnancy because they need to feed their baby.
When we feel sad, we can eat to comfort ourselves and take weight. Obesity often comes from emotional distress and the need to fill an emotional hole.
The grease that appears everywhere in the house as a result of the mother’s absence is a literary tool used to describe the character’s conscious and subconscious dynamics in relation to their loss. This grease is a motherly comfort, transformed/alienated through the father’s media.
The mother offered psychological warmth, the father can only offer the grease of his restaurant and the roof of his house as a substitute. Spiritual VS material. He is trying to fill the void left by the mother's departure but can only offer a degraded version, a more materialistic version, of what she represented.
Yui doesn’t need the grease because she’s a woman. She can feel her mother’s presence inside her. Her link to her is her link to nature, mount Fuji.
The house disgusts her for that reason, because she doesn’t need to be comforted by the grease and can see it for what it is, as opposed to her brother who suffers severely from the mother’s absence. He indeed perceives the grease as a substitute for the mother's presence.
He cannot build the taboo of incest : He stuffs himself with oil secretly and keeps on harassing his sister.
When he hits puberty, he becomes covered in spots. Normally caused by hormonal chaos, his acne is aggravated by the filth of the air in the house. This monstrous acne can be perceived as a way of suggesting the birth of an alienated libido ; due to grease, to the absence of the mother, to the incapacity to construct the taboo of incest, Goro is attracted to his sister and can’t control himself anymore.
At school, he gets humiliated regurlarly for his acne. He’ll redirect his fury against Yui and then against his father who will fail to assert his authority. Goro gets stuck in the symbolic role of « man of the house. » A position that compromises the construction of the taboo of incest too.
He asks Yui to change his blanket because it is wet. We never see him complain about the grease before that. There’s no reason to think that he suddenly finds his blanket wet when it already was the day before and the week before. The liquid is more probably sperm.
Goro is lost. He can’t make the difference between sperm and grease. He can’t structure himself psychologically. His love for women is the same as the one he entertains for his mother and for his sister. He will use the grease off his spots to « ejaculate » on Yui.
The brother attempts to abuse his sister sexually. The father intervenes and involontarily kills him by hitting him with a frying pan.
Yui’s turn to enter puberty comes. She too develops a strong acne, less than her brother though. Mount Fuji appears to her in a dream, it erupts and floods the streets of the city with grease. Yui is carried away by a river of lipids.
This eruption can easily be perceived as a metaphore for her sexual awakening, with this very feminine fear of being overwhelmed by her libido, of losing her individuality inside it.
Most of the time, a volcano discharges lava, here, it’s grease, the substitute for the mother's love (presence).
The boy ejaculates grease. The girl drowns in it.
Family dynamics slip towards another perversion, paternal incest. The father still misses his lost wife (to the point of psychological imbalance) and now that his daughter has become sexually mature, he perceives her as an extension of her.
He feeds her grease during her sleep.
Yui accuses him of doing to her what he did to Goro. She concludes that it’s the father who started to force feed the brother, but there’s no clear reason to think so. The father states « Oh yes, it’s him who liked that, not you. » He didn't mean to assault his daughter. He’s lost touch with reality and can't seem to see the difference between his children anymore, they're both made of the same grease I suppose.
Eventually, the firm rejection of his daughter brings him to cut off his own leg (emasculation). She witnesses the scene in the kitchen of the restaurant.
Grease runs from the wound : the man never recovered from his wife’s loss. He is now constituted entirely of this pain due to her absence.
I wish all of Junji Ito’s stories were as easy to interpret as that one.
Article on Tomie Chapter XI: The hair.