Japanese 'Gore Erotica' Is Slowly Catching On In The West [NSFW] 

Shintaro Kago

A bloodied wolf man birthing an unspeakable thing. The top half of a schoolgirl clawing her way across a marble floor. A soldier licking his lover's eyeball.

Heads up: This article contains explicit pictures and descriptions of sexual violence and gore.

This article originally appeared in June 2016. 

This is ero guro, a Japanese artistic movement dating back to the early 1800s. Undulating eye sockets, dismemberment by samurai, sub-human body horror and womb explosions are a few common tropes in the genre, all vile and enthralling (but mostly vile).

In fact, ero guro (often simply "guro") and tentacle porn, one of Japan's less relatable cultural exports, are byproducts of the same early Japanese woodcut themes. Lately, guro has been experiencing a minor renaissance that's even starting to spread to American pop culture, typically a hentai-free domain.

Shintaro Kago, a contemporary patron saint of ero guro, illustrated promotional material for electronic music sensation Flying Lotus's 2014 album, You're Dead!.

Kago's body horror graced the album's cover, as well as 19 tarot cards inside, each corresponding to a track. In 2015, New York fashion brand Supreme collaborated with artist Toshio Maeda, "The Tentacle Master," whose work is an thoughtful yet disconcerting blend of horror and hentai.

Anointed streetwear brand Mishka just released a series of t-shirts inspired by guro. Sinewy, gored cyborgs and dollfaced dead girls are, it seems, catching on with tastemakers.

Shintaro Kago's album art for Flying Lotus's "You're Dead!".

The Japanese term "ero guro" actually is derived from English: "ero" for "erotic" and "guro" from "grotesque." Sometimes, the word "nansensu" is tacked onto the end, taken from the English "nonsense." Although the term wasn't coined until around the 1920s, Japanese woodcuts have exhibited the sort of gory erotica that came to be known as guro as early as 1814.

You know that ubiquitous Japanese print of crashing waves, The Great Wave of Kanagawa? The same artist who designed Japan's most famous postcard also produced The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, which you might recognise from Mad Men:

Hokusai's Dream of the Fisherman's Wife

Artist Hokusai's less tourist-friendly work isn't savage in the same way as Kago's manga. But the subject's unabashed ecstasy while being overpowered by an enormous octopus offers the same emotional dissonance: Nightmarish, violent and sexually deviant things are happening. She seems ok. What gives?

In the 1860s (the tail end of the edo period), famed woodblock print artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi went through his "bloody print" period, allegedly because his father died. His work during that period was totally brutal, but earned him widespread fame. In one, a samurai is poised to slice up a disfigured, nearly naked gremlin of a man. In another, a chubby fellow is ripping the face off another gentleman. His foot, blood-spattered, is placed on the man's shoulder for leverage.

Around the 1920s, the macabre erotica of ero guro congealed in literature. Mystery and detective novels proved perfect for the genre to self-actualize (law and order, gore and sex?). Hirai Taro (pen name Edogawa Ranpo) and Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's horror-slash-erotica-slash-mystery took off, verging more on the nansensu side of the genre.

One of Taro's most famous novels, The Blind Beast, describes how a blind and deranged sculptor kidnaps a model and "imprisons her in a psychedelic labyrinth of giant sculpted eyes and other outlandish body parts, before dismembering her in a fearful blood-orgy."

In Junichiro's "The Gourmet Club," five gourmands' experiences of "unbearably delicious flavours would entwine themselves around the tongue until at last one's stomach burst open." Decadence -- whether sexual or gastronomical -- looks all the more decadent when it's covered in blood.

Suehiro Maruo

Kazuichi Hanawa

However grisly this niche literature got, it sometimes paled in comparison to real life: In 1936, guro found a cult icon in the Japanese sex worker Sada Abe. Allegedly raped at age 15 and then forced into prostitution, Abe famously strangled a lover and cut off his genitals, which she carried in her handbag for three days after his death.

The reason, apparently, was that she was jealous of his wife. In the years since, Abe has been memorialised in what are referred to as her "confessions," transcribed in interview format by renowned author Junichi Watanabe, as well as a number of films.

Today, guro thrives in manga. Manga artist Suehiro Maruo's torn faces and dangling eyeballs have earned him a dedicated fanbase of taboo aficionados. Inspired by a combination of early woodblock paints and Tanizaki's sexualized horror, manga artist Kazuichi Hanawa illustrates epic stories of brain consumption and ruthlessly violent women.

After spending time in prison, Hanawa's manga began to focus on the theme of incarceration (later turned into a live action movie). Shintaro Kago's "fashionable paranoia," as it's been called, has been published in dozens of volumes. Young girls in pastel clothes are often decapitated or sliced into pieces, their mouths still smiling.

In other cases, women look bemused as monsters emerge from their insides. Kago was interviewed by VICE in 2008:

"Basically, it's a question of how many variations of stories I can come up with that revolve around shit and sex. It's so fucking difficult," Kago told VICE. "Shit and sex are merely the starting points, and unless you can tick those off you can't even begin thinking about a narrative. And I do try to feature sweet young girls as the main characters. That's about it."

"I don't think my manga is all that popular with the readers, though," he added.

Shintaro Kago

Now that he's got FlyLo's name behind him, Kago's art is catching on in the states and paving the way for other guro artists to spread their work to America. Maeda, the "Tentacle Master," is currently Kickstarting a remastering of his erotic horror manga Urotsukidoji - Legend of the Overfiend. 24 hours after the campaign began, it had already raised $US25,000 ($32,096), half of its goal.

Considering cult renown for barely watchable movies along these themes, guro's marriage of violence and erotica must somehow resonate on a broader level. Films like The Human Centipede and Teeth, both about violently punishing sexually transgressive behaviour, boast substantial followings.

Everyone saw or heard of "Two Girls, One Cup." What does this say about is aside from, "Americans really are suckers for shock value?"

Suehiro Maruo

Art historian Jessica Pepper, whom I saw giving the lecture "An Examination of Body Horror in Japanese Animation" at New York's Morbid Anatomy Museum, told me that horror often reflects cultural fears that fluctuate with the broader political and social gestalt: "In the McCarthy era, it's giant bugs or aliens. That's the idea that another entity will come over and destroy us.

In the '90s, we got serial killers in American horror. Now, we see blatant acts of physical depravity, mixing sex, violence and death, all taken to the extreme. With the internet, it's very easy to see violence, sexuality, especially kink -- the question is, What's the worst thing we can do to ourselves?"

Violence and sex have been around much longer than the internet. Our connected age has certainly increased their visibility. Guro is considered art, gaudy and violent proclivities and all; and its creative lineage traces back much farther than the sort of violent internet porn with which it is often associated.

It will be interesting to watch so challenging a style rise in prominence in the West, if that is indeed where it's going: Why the fixation on birthing and womb destruction? Why are women so often the targets of the most brutal maimings? What anxieties are these artists really exploring? And how disgusting can an illustration be and still get featured on an album cover? Assuming guro continues its steady cultural ascent, we may soon find out.


Comments

    Nothing gets me squeamish these days... except eyeball licking/eating/screwing...

    thats... just... no...

      I find the grubs coming out of the girls feet the most disturbing of all the pictures in this article. Maybe because it's the one that could possibly happen.

      On a different note, I think there has been a lot more gore finding it's way into US comics over the past 20ish years, including "erotic" (imagine that in finger quotes) comics. Look at practically every Avatar comics title, but especially stuff like God Is Dead, Jungle Girls or Hellina. Some of the art is amazing, but disgusting at the same time.

        Look up Trypophobia.
        Don't worry, it doesn't really have anything to do with worms, rather the way we perceive certain patterns.

          Yeah I'm aware of that. It's pretty creepy, but that's not it.

          It gets me because I've learned about stuff like bot flies. Obviously that art was exaggerated but that's what it brings to mind.

          Give me monsters or ghosts and it doesn't bother me. I find something that's borderline real far creepier. Out of all the "scary" Japanese horror flicks (Pulse, Ring, Grudge, etc) the one that got me the most was Audition.

    Nope. Personally I thought Flying Lotus' album artwork was really good, but that other stuff... just no.

      you're just a vanilla

    Nobody light a match in here; this is pure nightmare fuel.

    I'm bored, so we should create some kind of group which lashes out at people who think that gore erotica is disgusting. We'll throw around words like 'biggot' and 'ignorant' and stuff at people who don't get it, we'll make our mascot food buttered pancakes, have the entire internet go WTF.

    Then, when we have enough sheep come over to our side, saying that it's sexy, eating buttered pancakes, that's when we pack up and leave. The sheep will keep the bandwagon rolling.

      As long as you'd accept buttered pikelets as a substitute to pancakes, I'm all in!

        Hmm... I do like pikelets...

        Okay, pancakes will be cool, but only for a certain period of time, unknowing to the masses. We'll sell t-shirts, pancake keyrings, pervert pancake mouse pads with circular butter and honey for the breast pads, etc.

        Then BAM, out comes the premium edition pikelets, for the people who are too hardcore for pancakes. HOWEVER, we sell pikelet merchandise from a "competitor" which is really just us but they don't need to know that.

        We'll have said pikelet competitor be sponsored by bullshit franchises we make up, specializing in XTREME products, drive the competition forward, have pancake-fanboys and pikelet-fanboys clash it out using their wallets.

        When pancakes start to lose their profit margin, we'll bring out the RETRO marketting scheme, trying to make pancakes cool again. This will divide the fans evenly.

        If all goes well, we might get funding by the local government to help those with PTSD, gained from watching too much gore erotica, and another front for treating people with pancake/pikelet diabetes.

          Pikelets?

          Man, I remember back when this Erotica gore group was cool. Way back at about 10:30 this morning when we had buttered pancakes. Then the Pikelet crowd came along and ruined everything. What happened to the good old days?

    "Stop, Dave. Please, stop. I can feel my mind going..." Yuk. Gross. Stop it. Seriously.

    I hope this sort of stuff isn't a whole new area of "reporting" that Kotaku is about to throw itself at with UFC & cosplay-like fervour.

    This is revolting! Anyone who likes this kinda stuff belongs in a padded room :S

    I was joking to myself at least it isn't Manga port of a child that some people for unknown reasons will say is acceptable but the nope there's a child in one.

    Of course it is and it absolutely isn't a made up excuse to write an indulgent article on something weird. (I like weird stuff, it's cool)

    So eye ball licking is a thing now...

      I'm not even convinced I misread your comment, I'm sure my brain omitted the word eye or purpose.

      A good friend once licked my eye ball whilst we were drunk. It felt very strange.

    The internet has exposed so many people to so much - what was once seen as bizarre is now becoming common, and so the purveyors of the “bizarre” feel the need to push boundaries even further.

    If this stuff becomes common, what comes next? Animal torture porn? Mass shooting porn? In the old days, you’d slowly grow up with a “normal” (or bland, depending on your way of looking at it), set of cultural norms and then, maybe when you were 25 or 30, you’d see something that pushed your boundaries and then that would be it. But these days, you’re exposed to something disturbing every 5 months or so, and people’s acceptance of the “weird” as the new normal is quickening in pace.

    I don’t think there’s anything immoral in drawing anything you want. It’s just lines on paper, after all. No one is hurt by it. But if this stuff becomes “Mainstream”, you know that they’ll just create something even weirder, more off-putting and then it’s a never ending race to the bottom in which the only way to shock someone is to draw Sandy Hook pornography mixed in with, I don’t know, cat mutilation and cannibal incest. You know someone will go there, if they think it’s the only way to shock.

    And what’s with that weird human desire to shock? People are so strange.

    It's catching on so slowly it's a reposted article from over a year ago.

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