“Four x Four Walls,” or as it is more popularly known by its other title, “Four Heavy Walls,” is the story of a troublemaking boy named Souichi. The introductory scene of “Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre” Episode 4 shows us Souichi heading to a cedar forest and walking with what seemed like a voodoo doll; he also plucked an insect that resembled a beetle and smiled with his teeth full of nails. This scene is a reference to another of Souichi’s stories created by Junji Ito, “Souichi’s Selfish Curse.” Souichi is introduced as anemic, and he sucks on his nails to replenish the iron deficiency in his body even after his family asks him to do otherwise. Souichi, a fifth grader, is presented in that story as a loner and a specialist in occult arts and voodoo. He is especially strong and can curse anybody with the help of these as a result of his grandmother’s teachings. The introductory scene shows Souichi on his way to curse a fellow classmate of his in the cedar forest.
In this story, “Four x Four Walls,” Souichi comes off as a troublemaker, and he doesn’t use his voodoo techniques on his family but rather loves to prank his elder brother Kouichi Tsujii, who prioritizes his studies more. He occasionally pranks his brother and does not let him study by either creating a tapping sound in the attic or distracting him. However, Kouichi cannot catch him in the act, as he finds him watching television with Sayuri, their sister, and their parents, so Souichi begins to manipulate him into thinking that maybe it is a poltergeist at work. He goes even further by tying his brother’s things with strings so as to make them move, making the story seem more legitimate. Kouichi quickly discovers Souichi pulling the strings and complains to his father to find a solution. Later, his father contacts a construction company that sends in a carpenter named Tagaisu, who, at first glance, comes off as suspicious and seems otherworldly. Tagaisu sets to work and creates a four-by-four-foot small room for Kouichi to study in peacefully. This was a way to soundproof his room and stop Souichi from distracting him yet again. This scene is a little important because while constructing the room, Souichi also starts nailing on the wall, which makes Tagaisu compliment him on finishing the task. Souichi beams with joy, and his family also realize that this is the first time anybody has complimented him.
After the room is finished, Kouichi is distracted yet again by cicada noises as well as other eerie voices. He finds the entrance Souichi had installed in the room to distract Kouichi, and he chases Souichi around, then gives up after falling into the sewer and finding another room to study. Souichi was not aware of the latter fact as he continued to make noises to distract Kouichi, and he passed out due to being in an enclosed area for so long. The anime ends at that, but the manga provides a little ending where Souichi is discovered and rescued in the nick of time while their father tries to contact Tagaisu; however, the construction company denies sending anyone like that.
“Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre” Episode 4 really delves into the life of a boy who is really lonely. Souichi, due to his weird tendencies, is really treated rather indifferently by his family, which suggests that they are fed up with him. His actions can indicate a cry for attention as the fifth grader is treated like a stranger in his own family. The only reason why he continues pranking his elder brother Kouichi is because of his reactions, as Kouichi seems to be the only person who gets angry enough to reprimand him and care. He was seen as excited and really happy when Kouichi chased him around in that 4 x 4 room that he created with Tagaisu. Tagaisu’s complimenting him, and then his family realizing this was the only time he was complimented, really shows the years of neglect. As the readers might delve deep into the universe of Souichi, they will realize that voodoo and occult arts were the only things that made him happy because they reminded him of his grandmother, who was the only one who seemed to care for him when she was present in the family. Kouichi’s reaction was the only way Souichi could technically feel that he was cared about because he, too, remained indifferent to the rest of his family just like they did. The story comes across as slightly less horror-centric and less weird than the rest, but the depth and meaning behind this short story really emphasizes on how much darker reality really is than fiction.
“The Sandman’s Lair,” also known by the names “Den of the Sleep Demon” and “Where the Sandman Lives,” is a very surreal story created by Junji Ito that talks about split personalities or Multiple Personalities Syndrome. The story begins with Yuji Hirano, a struggling writer who spends his time listening to music and sitting still instead of sleeping. He meets up with his fellow writer, Mari Igarashi, for what seems like lunch. He tells Mari about his difficulties when she asks him why he looks so haggard and tired. He tells her that he has not been sleeping very well, and that has taken a toll on him. Mari, not thinking much of it, asks him if he is focusing on his novel, to which he replies with a negative. He then divulges his reasons for looking so haggard as he mentions that, when he falls asleep, he enters the life of his dream self and that his dream self has found out about reality and is constantly trying to escape the realm of dreams and enter reality. Thus, to stop his dream self from escaping, Yuji has taken to not sleeping and binding himself with tape to stop the phenomenon from happening. Mari does not believe his word and instead suggests that he visit a doctor, as she is concerned that his stress over not being able to become a published writer is taking a heavy toll on him. Yuji gets offended and tries to leave; Mari follows him, and Yuji suggests she visit him and see it with her own eyes.
In the manga, Mari then tells her parents that she is going on a trip and thus leaves for Yuji’s house. In the anime, when Mari arrives at Yuji’s place, she finds him listening to music, and he cannot spend another moment without sleep. Before he falls asleep, Yuji binds his feet and arms with tape and asks Mari to look over him. As he drifts off, Mari, out of pity, unbinds his arms and legs as she falls asleep as well. In the middle of the night, Mari wakes up to see Yuji’s left arm coming out of his mouth. She screams at Yuji to wake up, and he forces his arm to go back to its rightful place. He then tells her that his dream self is the flip side of his current body and that he feels hollow or that he went hollow after his parent’s deaths. He tells her about his unique condition of not having any organs, and after his doppelganger from the dream realizes the existence of reality, he has been trying to escape from the dream and take his place. Mari was still in disbelief. Here, in the manga, they go over taping Yuji and binding his mouth as well to keep the dream self from sabotaging Yuji’s life, yet to no avail. The anime only shows Yuji defeated as he asks Mari to leave while he just wants to drift away because he cannot take it anymore. He also confesses his feelings to Mari and tells her that his flip self wants her, too, because, in a way, they are the same person. Mari binds herself to Yuji to be an anchor for him, only to be sucked in and become a part of his other self. She is reported missing by her parents, and the police come to question Yuji; however, they notice a naked man and a strange man sitting in place of Yuji, who are similar but, in some ways, not. The stranger informs the police that Mari had become a part of him when the police inquired about her as the story came to an end.
“The Sandman’s Lair” is a very interesting take on the Multiple Personalities Syndrome that happens to people when they go through a tragic incident, and the trauma affects their very being. It makes it impossible for the person to go through such trauma by themselves, which is where the mind creates multiple personalities to save that person’s mental health. This is called a system. Yuji had gone through a similar pain when he lost his parents at an early age. To save him from pain, his mind created an alternate self for him, who was more sinister and stronger than he was. It could so be possible that metaphorically Mari was also one of his personalities, who was the savior in the system and kept Yuji’s reality intact and kept him from giving in to his other personality. At the end of “Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre” Episode 4, a tired Yuji cannot go on anymore, which is where the system breaks and his personalities, including Mari’s, mold into one. This is why the stranger Yuji had said that Mari had become a part of him after he took over another Yuji. It goes to show how unique and complex the human mind can be and how it takes care of itself and preserves itself from any form of trauma that could break it.