The third episode of “Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre” begins with a present timeline as well as a past timeline counting up to the present. In the present timeline, a girl named Kazuko Morinaka seems to be avoiding somebody knocking on her window. The voice outside her window is that of a girl who is constantly urging her to come out of the house and search for food to replenish her storage. However, Kazuko avoids the voice and seems scared of it. The scene switches to a month in the past as the plot unravels why Kazuko seemed so scared. A month ago, a female idol of Japan, Terumi Fujino, committed suicide by hanging on the outer wall of an apartment building. Her hanging seemed suspicious as her position did not resemble that of suicide, but the media ruled it as her tying the rope around the power line through her window. She died due to asphyxia, and as her bodily fluids dropped, it created a very solemn situation.
Tenants of the apartment building, along with Terumi’s fans and reporters, gathered around, aggrieved as the rest of the nation was informed about their beloved idol’s death. Kazuko, Terumi’s best friend, watched the reruns of her show with her family as she grieved her friend’s death in silence. Now, this show heavily references the story of The Ice Cream Bus as Sonohara and Tomoki, the father-son duo in the previous episode, were watching the same show while Sonohara asked Tomoki if he would want to go to his mother. In this show, Terumi was introduced as a popular idol in pop music and variety shows. In the story “Hanging Balloons,” Kazuko feels remorse while watching and rewatching the show. She switched off the television as she sobbed quietly while her mother comforted her. Terumi’s funeral is held the next day, and Kazuko is asked to address the funeral as a representative of Terumi’s friends. As the nation grieves for the loss of their idol, Chiharu, Tarko, and Kazuyo comfort a sobbing Miyuki as she bawls her eyes out. While they discuss the situation, they witness Shinya Shiraishi, Terumi’s boyfriend, get bullied by Terumi’s fans. As they hurl accusations at Shiraishi, weighing down his mind even more, Kazuko and her group threaten to call the police on the bullies to chase them away from Shiraishi. As Shiraishi starts blaming himself for Terumi’s suicide, the events that define the story’s title begin.
The scene changes to the present timeline as the knocking outside Kazuko’s window does not cease. The story immediately changes to the past two weeks ago as the news reports sightings of a big balloon of Terumi’s severed head. The news gets all of the students talking about the event, and Kazuko, a little angry at the news and the people for making a caricature out of her best friend’s death, talks to Shiraishi about it. Shiraishi confirms the sightings as he tells Kazuko about how Terumi’s balloon visits his backyard and stares at him with a certain hollowness that seems to beg Kazuko to approach her. Shiraishi tells Kazuko that he will call her and show her the sight when he witnesses the balloon again. That day, at night, Shiraishi calls Kazuko through a payphone to inform her that Terumi has appeared yet again.
As Kazuko rushes over to where Shiraishi is, she witnesses Shiraishi standing on a tree, trying to reach her, while a noose of rope that appeared out of nowhere slips through his head and kills Shiraishi by hanging. The balloon of Shiraishi drags the hanging corpse of Shiraishi as the balloons of Terumi and Shiraishi share a kiss while floating. In the manga, Kazuko rushes to the police station to inform them about the happenings; however, when the police arrive on her account, they see nothing. The anime does not show this little detail as it cuts to Kazuko walking with her friends to school and discussing what had happened. Kazuko believes that the balloon also had been the cause behind Terumi’s death as well. As the girls discuss how Kazuko hallucinated, they are attacked by the flying balloons, and Miyuki and Taeko are immediately dragged by the noose. Chiharu and Kazuko run to an alley to save themselves from the killer balloons. They discover a grievous truth as the man living where they hid Chiharu’s balloon with the help of a crossbow: as Chiharu’s balloon lost its air and died, Chiharu died as well in a similar way as the death of the balloon directly impacted the face of the living person they shared. This basically points out that the balloons are living, and life is not the only resemblance they share with their living counterparts; they can even talk like them.
Kazuko rushes back home as similar balloons rush in from the sky, and Kazuko and her family’s balloons chase her to her home. The scene then switches to the present timeline as the balloons gathered near her home constantly coax her to either come out or open the window. Kazuko jolts out of her reverie as she stares out the window with fear and anger as the scene switches again to the past timeline dated five days ago. The government announces an emergency, and people are advised not to venture outside as the balloons would take a life swiftly whenever they are unsuspecting. The reporter reporting the incidents from outside was swiftly taken by the balloons as well. The government asked people to travel only in their cars to preserve their lives. This is because they cannot harm the balloons in any way, as it directly affects them too. As Kazuko’s father leaves to quickly get into the car for his work, he still gets crushed by the noose as it misses his neck.
Kazuko’s brother, Yosuke, in the anime, leaves to find food to survive as he takes an umbrella with him; his family doesn’t stop him, but in the manga, Kazuko and her mother hold him back from leaving as Yosuke fights them to leave to go find food. The past catches up to the present timeline as Kazuko has now lost all of her family and has to listen to the other balloons coaxing her to give up her life as well. In a flashback, the viewers are shown that her mother walked to her death in a trance. Yosuke’s voice brings her out of her reverie, and the balloon of Yosuke thinks of another way to lure her out. Kazuko, hearing Yosuke get back from his trip, deludes herself into thinking that at least one of her family members is alive as she opens the window she dreaded looking at before. As soon as she opens the window, Yosuke’s balloon thanks her for opening the window and shows her the hanging corpse of her brother with the umbrella he used to fend for himself. The noose of Kazuko’s balloon then hangs in front of her tantalizingly, convincing her to commit suicide of her own accord.
The entire third episode of “Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre” metaphorically deals with the topic of suicide as well as idol culture. The idol culture has actually taken hold of the audience, as through social media and other media outlets, fans tend to copy their favorite idols, going so far as to copy even how they committed suicide. The episode even shows how the fans reacted against the beloved family, friends, and significant others of the late idol as they hurled accusations at them, blaming them for their deaths. The episode also revolves around the topic of the mental health of the people in Japan; similar to that of many other Asian countries, mental health is almost treated as a taboo topic. The grief that people feel after their beloved person passes away is not shown properly, as they tend to push their grief down to maintain normalcy. This also sheds light on the least suspected people, who hide behind a smile and commit suicide as well, because sometimes it is impossible to know if they are suffering from their fair share of issues as well.
The scenes where the balloons constantly coax Kazuko to give up her life are similar to when a person constantly battles with their mental health, which makes death seem attractive by the minute, and tries to cope but ultimately gives up because exhaustion sets in. Episode 3 of “Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre” really gives a lot to introspect as Jinjo Ito, through his work, mocks the culture of dancing around the subject of mental health and idol culture. It goes to show that most Asian countries need to have an awareness of the subject and not treat it as taboo, although nowadays, people are trying to be more accepting of vulnerability and also help people get through their struggles with issues like depression, anxiety, etc. The idol culture, however, takes a turn for the worse as hardcore fans from some countries do not let their favorite idol or their family and friends live in peace as they constantly stalk them and invade their privacy.