Saturday, February 7, 2009

Book Review: Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino

I've decided to start posting reviews of books, movies and albums. Here's the first one, a horror manga by the artist Hideshi Hino.

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Warning: May Contain Spoilers

To horror buffs, the name Hideshi Hino will probably be associated with the "Guinea Pig" movie series. He directed "Flowers of Flesh and Blood" and wrote and directed "Mermaid In Manhole". Hino is also a mangaka (manga author) who writes wonderfully grotesque and bizzare manga. The one said to be his personal favorite is "Panorama of Hell"

"Panorama of Hell" (POH from here on) is loosely based on Hino's own life, from his birth in Manchuria to his family's escape to Japan at the end of WWII and his career as an artist. At the beginning of POH we are introduced to the Hell Painter. The Hell Painter proceeds to explain how he makes his paintings from his own blood, describes the hellish town he lives in (he lives across the street from a guillotine and next to a crematorium and graveyard), and shows us his paintings based on his family.

It is quite obvious that the author Hino has severe family issues as nearly every manga story of his I've read involves someone abused, betrayed or murdered by family members. This is not a bad thing however, the plot of POH is driven by the interesting though grotesque and insane characters of the Hell Painter's family. We learn first of his wife and children who are quite clearly as insane as the Hell Painter himself. Then the three generations of Yakuza in his family; his grandfather and father, the abusive gamblers and his brother the Fight Freak. Fight Freak is probably the only character in this book who could be considered "good" as he attempts to protect a young Hell Painter from his father's abuse as well as from bullies.

Next is the story of his mother who was driven mad on the trek from Manchuria back to her home country of Japan, which just had Hiroshima destroyed by a nuclear bomb. We learn that the Hell Painter was not conceived by his mother and father but from a beam of radiation that shot his mother from Japan. The Hell Painter was a perverse immaculate conception by the Emperor of Hell, that is the mushroom cloud. For the Hell Painter's last story we learn of a frightening ability he's had since childhood. The ability to make horrible things happen simply by wishing them to the Emperor of Hell. The story ends when the Hell Painter has a breakdown and the events that follow call into question most of his stories.

Overall, this is an amazing manga driven by the evil characters. The artwork is extremely grotesque and in a very different style from most other manga. This surreal and terrifying story is one to be read if you are a fan of horror.

Some problems with the book is the violence is so over the top at times it borders on self parody and many of the questions raised during the story go unanswered. Though the latter may be forgiven as we are dealing with an unreliable narrator. The book is also out of print and will probably be hard to find. I managed to find a copy of the book from Amazon for a little under $20.

As for a rating, I give it 4.5 mushroom clouds out of 5.

Amazon Link

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