Spiral (Junji Ito): The Reason for everything. Part 1. (Four parts = 9000 words)
I’ve just reread Junji Ito’s Tomie and Spiral in search of an interpretation, of an explanation. I was hoping I’d find a stronger metaphorical coherence in Tomie’s character but it seems that her meaning is very general and evolves along with the stories told. So, I’ll have to reread the book again before I write an article about it. Spiral became clearer however.
When facing such an incredible story, it is quite difficult to determine what is coherent and what is not. From the start my main idea was that everything was happening because Kirie didn’t want to leave the village to go and live with Shuichi in Mirodiyama. But I couldn’t exactly judge whether this small element of the story was truly important or not, if it could be used as a trigger for all the tragic events that happen afterwards. Also, Shuichi explains immediatly that he feels suffocated by Kurouzu as if the city wanted to swallow everybody. Spoiler : The city will swallow everybody. It is actually very illogical that Kirie should never surrender her agency to the one guy who had seen everything coming. Shuichi is never listened to, never followed, never asked any question. Still, it’s hard to determine whether there’s a reason for this or not. In a similar fashion, while Shuichi’s mother becomes crazy when her husband dies, and the young man is clearly greatly affected psychologically by all the horrors that are taking place, Kirie shines. She never seems overwhelmed or terrified more than five minutes. She just needs a good rest and she’s ready to fight the whole world again. It’s hard to decide whether this is because she’s the main character or if there’s a reason behind this mad stoicism.
The city has been leveled to the ground, there was thousands of deaths. Kirie remains smiley, benevolent and calm. "We're looking for food in the ruins of our hometown because we're starving." Nothing worrying Kirie.
Among other intriguing elements there’s the fact that a lot of what happens undeniably revolves around Kirie and Shuichi. Shuichi’s parents are the first victims. Kirie’s parents are the last. Kirie is targetted by cyclone n°1. It looks for her and her only. A man spies on her through a hole in the wall. "Jack-in-a-box" follows her around because he’s in love with her. Several girls become her rival and try to use the spiral to become more popular than her (spiral hair or forehead). Also, she is the sole survivor of the vampiric maternity ward ; and she is thanks to Shuichi who, as usual, saw the threat coming from afar but will not be taken more seriously for all that.
Very regularly, Kirie and Shuichi find themselves at the center of the nightmarish events that take place in Kurouzu but nothing ever explicitly says that these events have anything to do with them.
The detail that eventually made me decide that something unsaid was going on was when, on page 522, Kirie eventually decides to flee from the city because her younger brother is changing into a snail. She’s witnessed about fifty people die in numerous horrific manners before that and never decided to leave the city. It was never too dangerous or too nightmarish. Sure, protecting her little brother is a legitimate reason to leave but she had one thousand good reasons to do so beforehand.
And so, my point here is that there’s a reason why Kirie doesn’t want to join Shuichi in Mirodiyama beyond her love for her hometown. Something truly prevents her from fleeing from the cursed town.
On a structural level, the chances that this secret shouldn’t also be the reason for the curse are very slim. Let me reformulate : if there’s a secret reason for Kirie not to go to Mirodiyama with Shuichi, then this secret reason is also the reason for the curse.
The secret necessarily is unspeakable… otherwise Kirie would talk about it. It is taboo, it would destroy her relationship with Shuichi for example. And it needs to be taboo so that it can be translated into a metaphorical phenomena (or at least, it's easier this way).
It is most probably sexual because nine stories out of ten in Spiral are about an aspect of love relationships. Flirting, falling in love, being attractive, pregnancy, experiencing a forbidden love, having sex.
Just for the sake of not going too far too quickly, we could imagine that Kirie lost her virginity before knowing Shuichi and that she is ashamed of it. This would explain why she won’t dare follow him, maybe she doesn’t feel worthy of him. It would also work with how humble she is, how much she dislikes attention. But this is not an idea complicated enough to explain all the things that take place in the story. Far from it. It would make more sense if Kirie had been raped. Shuichi and Kirie’s relationship seems pretty asexual. Kirie would be traumatized and would have lost her sex drive as well as aspects of her personnality that should derive from it.
Kirie patiently waits on a bench for her boyfriend to arrive. Naah. This does not exist. A girl her age would be standing on the platform jumping out of impatience.
The link between personnal problems and the destiny of a city isn’t obvious. Spirals are attacking everybody and destroying everything not just things around Shuichi and Kirie.
Usually, that kind of story is built upon the idea that if a core universal rule is broken then everybody suffers from it. That’s also why, there’s a need for a taboo, a transgression of the natural order. This is what invites the spirals into the story.
The spirals are symptoms of an unsaid abnormality in the logic of things and they indirectly outline the problem, they describe it.
If I’m using examples it’s because I’m not exactly one hundred percent certain of the theory I’m going to develop and I want to put forward that it’s not because I’m not 100 % right that it makes a huge difference. It’s not a great leap from thinking Kirie isn’t a virgin anymore to the idea that she was raped.
So, as I was saying it needs to be sexual and taboo. But it has to be more complex than rape too, because really a lot of things happen. I could also keep in mind the possibility that Shuichi and Kirie are secret brother and sister. Shuichi’s father would have had a story with Kirie’s mother. But that’s not the interpretation I’m going to follow.
I think that Mitsuo isn’t Kirie’s younger brother but her son.
The father isn’t Shuichi otherwise there wouldn’t be a story as everything would be fine.
Most probably, Kirie’s father is the father of her son.
Edit: Now that I've finished the writing of this article, I've realised that I need to clarifiy something from the start. To do so, I'll need a comparison.
In the movie Greenland a husband and a wife are going through a difficult period in their marriage (things weren't working and the guy cheated on his wife/the woman is in love with her father), and the metaphorical consequence to that is that a meteor crashes on earth and threatens human life. This is a representation of what their kid is going through, his world is collapsing. And of course, his parents have to sort things out between them so that the family survives the apocalypse.
Spiral works similarly except that, at the end of the story readers actually get to see the spirals, what they represent and are invited to consider that they have a will of their own. In Greenland, the characters do not meet the God who threw the meteor. In spiral we actually travel through the looking glass and what we find is not necessarily as malevolent as (I) expected.
1."The Spiral Obsession Part 1" (うずまきマニア：その1, Uzumaki mania: So no ichi)
In the first chapter Shuichi explains that he hates Kurouzu and the description he gives of everything he dislikes about the city forshadows a lot of the horrors that will come later on. Shuichi can feel that something is wrong and that fleeing would solve the problem. Kirie cannot follow him though because her little brother is truly her son, result of an incestuous relationship with her father.
Spirals are appearing here and there. In the water, in the wind. The catastrophic phenomena is triggered by Kirie’s inexplicable desire to stay in the city against her lover’s desire.
From a genetic point of view, incest is a spiral. Kirie has a child with her father. Then she has a child with her child. Then her daughter has a child with her own father etc... there’s never balance. The line of filiation folds upon itself until at some point, it’ll reach a dead end of genetic corruption.
Kirie comes across Shuichi’s father. He is in a dark cramped street, the kind of street that a beautiful young woman like Kirie shouldn’t approach. His attention is entirely absorbed by a snail that is climbing up the wall.
Now, if we follow our theory rigourously this mean, on a metaphorical level, that Shuichi’s father is attracted to Kirie (she is the spiral here). He knows** that she slept with her father and this, to him, means that she is attracted to older men. Even more so when she’s just rejected his son and shows not sexual attraction towards him.
**I use the word in a very vague manner as in Junji Ito things tend to happen on a subconscious level, so the characters do not need to learn about something, to be told, to discuss events, for these events to influence them or others who shouldn't be aware of them.
Again, it’s her rejection of Shuichi’s proposal that triggers everything, because it is the first strong indicator that something is wrong. Suddenly, Mr. Saito becomes incapable of controlling himself. He can’t see why he shouldn’t try his luck.
When she finds herself face to face with Mr.Saito at first he rolls his eyes : he tries to attract her attention and make her understand what he wants from her. Just like a man would wink or raise his eyebrows but this deformed by the spiral.
Then, he sticks out his long rolled tongue, ready to perform the transgressive act.
In both cases, Kirie is horrified. Shuichi’s father ends up rolling himself inside a box, it’s his whole body that he’s transforming into a proof of his eligibility as a partner for Kirie. Except that he dies obviously.
So, in this first story, the spirals works as metaphores for the sexual deviance of Shuichi’s father who becomes obsessed with Kirie and then attempts at seducing her. All this being inderectly linked to the original transgression of Kirie and he father, the spiral.
2."The Spiral Obsession Part 2" (うずまきマニア：その2, Uzumaki mania: So no ni)
Very understandably, Shuichi’s mother is destroyed by the sight of her husband reduced to a spiral. But the metaphore for a transgressive betrayal is there too. In the first chapter we can see that spirals are used to portray the collapse of their couple. Instead of having a man shouting at his wife because she can’t cook properly, he loses his temper because she didn’t use the ingredient that would allow him to make a spiral in his bowl. Then Mrs Saito throws away her husband’s collection of spirals. Not only is his behaviour worrying but he also doesn’t pay attention to her anymore.
His obsession for spirals is just like a loss of sexual interest in his wife. Their couple is done for and the fact that he should end up a spiral himself is like finding a love letter from another woman in his wallet. Their relationship has lost all meaning.
Shuichi's mother hallucinates that her dead husband asks her to become a spiral. She would become attractive to his eyes again. She resists as much as she can.
It is very logical that Shuichi’s mother should lose her mind and starts developping a phobia of spirals. But it is quite interesting that her husband should talk to her in her dreams and ask her to become a spiral herself. That’s his solution for their relationship to find a new balance : she should adapt to his new tastes.
3."The Scar" (傷跡, Kizuato)
Now, if we truly make the hypothesis that Kirie had an incestuous relationship with her father, well… her temper should be altered by this experience.
So far, a few things are noticeable. At the train station, she doesn’t wait for Shuichi on the platform but on a bench, inside. She’s not impatient or too enthusiastic. They do not hug or kiss. They’re so distant that readers can wonder whether they’re together or not. She doesn’t behave like a girlfriend, she doesn’t behave as if she was « his. »
Azami is extremely popular thanks to the spiral but rejects all men. Then she falls in love with Shuichi. The spiral creates a situation in which Kirie is indirectly acknowldged as the most attractive girl in town, as she dates the young man whom Azami wants. Indirectly again, this emasculates all men because their attraction should be oriented towards a girl who is in an asexual relationship with an asexual young man.
Also, we can see in chapter 3 that she’s quite humble. Kirie is a stunning young woman but she behaves as if she was ordinary. She’s not aware of her beauty. That kind of incapacity to realise how others perceive you could be a result of her abuse. Every boy in the school should persue her, but she’s with Shuichi, a guy who doesn’t seem particularly appreciative of her beauty.
Clearly there’s something strange in their couple and in Kirie’s behaviour and perception of herself.
Enters Azami Kurotani. A friend of Kirie’s. She describes her as « beautiful and calm. » To cut short : she’s like Kirie.
They spend time together, they walk together and when Shuichi meets Azami, she and Kirie are side by side. As if he had to choose between one of them… that which he’ll have to do.
Being abused, sexually or not, creates a second self. The real person tries to heal from the abuse but cannot behave as if it did not happen. Victims have to learn how the trauma changed them in order to somewhat repair things.
For some reason Shuichi’s parents had to die for this to happen, but now that they are dead, Kirie offers a choice to Schuichi : Her or her sexualised spiral double.
Sadly enough, it’s her double who is sexualised and passionate. That’s what the abuse destroyed in Kirie. She cannot fall in love anymore.
Shuichi chooses Kirie over Azami and thus accepts that they will not have a passionate relationship.
Azami’s face becomes a hole, a hypnotizing vagina, with which she devours a man before disappearing.
It’s a negative ending as Kirie should have reunited with this part of herself.
But there’s a positive aspect to this chapter and it’s that Kirie realises that she wants Shuichi to be hers. She says it in a funnily modest manner at some point: « Shuichi is my boyfriend. »
4."The Firing Effect" (窯変, Yōhen, Strange Kiln)
Most first pages show Kirie along with the theme of the chapter in a slightly forced manner, as if Kirie was the spiral. Strangely enough, she's not on the first page of "scar" a chapter in which Shuichi tells her that her friend Azami is the spiral. (My idea here is that Kirie is the spiral and that in that specific chapter her character is split into several).
This chapter (The Firing Effect) is an intuitive torture because I have a strong feeling about all this but it cannot be transcribed into a very clear argument.
I don’t know why and I will maybe research that, ovens are often associated with life. Just like earth. In Golem stories for example, but also in the movie Ghost with Patrick Schwayze and Demi Moore. The woman who’s making vases would like to have a baby. There’s something similar about the volcano level of Bubba’n’Stix. Or the factory of Terminaor 2.
Lava or melted material + machinery that gives a shape = metaphore for creating life
All of this is quite vague to me but I have a strong feeling about it.
My intuition is that Kirie’s father is some sort of Frankenstein. He is fascinated by the creation of life and doesn’t care about transgressing the natural order for the sake of trying something. He’s the crazy scientist here.
1-The earth that Kirie's father uses is mixed with the ashes of people who were cremated 2-Cries of pain can be heard during the cooking 3-The pots are deformed that which indicates that something evil is going on. //These three things should stop him but don't. As calm and quiet as he is, he is still performing a disgusting activity. He could have raped his daughter in the same fashion; without physical violence, without threat but with no consideration for the deep evilness of his behaviour.
This works perfectly with being the father of Kirie’s child. As calm and nice as he seems. Also, when Mitsuo, Kirie younger brother/son, tells her that she always takes much care to prepair things in the morning (like a mother would), she gets annoyed. She rarely is. She is very often quite impatient with her little brother but takes every initiative to protect him.
The first page of the story shows Kirie standing next to the oven in a weird manner. She is associated with the oven, it’s an equivalant of her. She’s a past experimentation tool of her father.
The father fetches earth at the bottom of a lake where the ashes of the victims of the spiral remain.
This is so convoluted.
Incest destroys the notion of parent.
Schuichi’s parents both die first at the hand of the spiral because the spiral is the act of incest between Kirie and her father and because by refusing to follow Shuichi in Midoyama, Kirie indirectly states that her past, her trauma, has a stronger grip on her than her future with Shuichi.
The position of Kirie makes it look like the ray of light on the water comes from her vagina. The father surfaces right in front of it.
And so Shuichi’s parents give their son the two best reasons to run away from Kurouzu. Both dive into the worst perversion possible : The father tries to have sex with his son's girlfriend and goes back to a sperm state, the mother creates her own womb of pain. Their own sexuality is turned against them it seems.
And now Kirie’s father cooks pottery/creates life with the soul of dead parents/through the act of incest. His present crime metaphorically overlaps his past crime.
His perversion doesn’t stop there has he manages to make Shuichi eat in a cursed plate… and spaghettis with that !
Shuichi sees the product of the earth from the pond, cooked in the oven. The incestuous child. Mitsuo.
So, he exposes everything to the boy (metaphorically). Maybe because he wants Kirie to remain his.
Positive development and ending : Kirie can’t stand hearing the cries of pain of the parents, of the victims of the spiral. She thus understands how incest is wrong. She respects the normal order of things.
Shuichi destroys the oven and frees the souls.
5. "Twisted Souls" (ねじれた人びと, Nejireta hitobito, Twisted People)
In this chapter, Kirie witnesses and partakes in the tragic story of two young people in love with each other but whose love is forbidden by their families. Eventually, their bodies will tangle under the influence of the spiral and they will disappear in the ocean, forming some sort of strange animal.
Unless Kazunori and Yoriko are secretly brother and sister, that which would explain the inflexible will of their families not to let them live their love, this use of the spiral is an extension over the meaning given by the incestuous relationship of Kirie and her father. The forbidden relationship is alienating everything in the city and as a consequence other forbidden love stories find a way to exist because they are less morbid. Why would Kazunori and Yoriko renounce their forbidden love when Kirie is rejecting Shuichi for something far more morbid ?
The thing is, Yoriko and Kazunori could very well be brother and sister. At some point they spot two snakes. Yoriko states that they are fighting like their parents but Kazunori corrects her, they're not fighting they're reproducing. So, are their parents truly fighting ? Or is the anger between the two families rooted in a deeper problem than the noise ? By the way, the thinness of the wall that seperates their homes is also a metaphore for the thinness of the difference between their families. They're not exactly truly two distinct families... Yoriko and Kazunori probably are brother and sister.
One meaningful moment of this chapter is when Kirie impatiently rejects Shuichi’s proposition again only to witness Yoriko tell Kazunori that she would follow him anywhere.
This hints at the fact that the reason behind Kirie’s refusal is not a lack of love. She truly has a strong reason to stay in Kurouzu. What could be more important for a young woman like Kirie than the man with whom she wants to live her life ? Well. A child. Kirie is already a mother, she cannot abandon Mitsuo.
Spiral: The Reason for everything Part 1
Spiral: The Reason for everything Part 2
Spiral: The Reason for everything Part 3
Spiral: The Reason for everything Part 4
Glyceride: The Absence of the Mother
Tomie XI Hair: Sexually Abused by her Father
Berserk 1997 Last Episode: A Metaphore for Mental Collapse