As a horror fanatic, I have always said I would be exhilarated, yet terrified, to visit Japan, as it is the one place on Earth where ghosts are real. They have to be. The beautiful and horrific tales of ghosts, goblins, monsters, etc. that have emerged from the country over the centuries are too genuine for them not to be real. Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts continues to prove the legends are more probably authentic than myth.
A compilation of a four-issue comic mini-series, Hungry Ghosts bases itself on the idea of Kaidan (otherwise known as Kwaidan, 100 Candles, or Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai), a game played during Japan’s Edo period by samurais. In the game, one hundred candles were lit in an otherwise darkened room, and participants each took turns telling a scary tale. When they finished, they blew out the candle and stared into a mirror, so others could be sure that the narrator had not been possessed by the creature from the story. As the candles were blown out, the room got darker while the stories became scarier, creating an atmosphere of intense fear.
In Hungry Ghosts, chefs come together to entertain guests in a game of Kaidan. Written by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose, eight horror stories, each involving food, are carefully constructed for extreme, nail-biting scares. Some are tales of unfortunate souls, some of sweet revenge, and all are stunning examples of horror done right. Through the tales of various Japanese monsters, of which most have not heard, the reader gets so much more than a horror story. The personality of each chef is woven into the tale seamlessly as they push the reader into places they might not want to go, but end up all the same. The diversity of the characters and the stories make for a perfect combination and leave the reader drooling for more.
The artwork for each story comes from a different artist, and yet there is a cohesive feel to the book. This difficult feat is pulled off by some of the best in the business, and nothing less than greatness is provided to the horrific tales. The richness of the art, the detailed images, and subtleness of some of the frights bring the inspiration behind this book to life. In terms of both art and writing, I found the most terrifying installments to be "The Starving Skeleton," "Salty Horse," and "The Cow Head."
But, the end of the main narrative is not the end of the entertainment value of this book. In fact, I found the back matter to be exceptionally fascinating. The late Anthony Bourdain contributed new recipes written for five of the stories told in the game of Kaidan, which add more depth to the tales. Beyond that, and quite possibly my favorite part of the book, is A Handy Guide to the Legendary Ghostly Spirits behind our Terrifying Tales (or The “Real” Ghosts, as stated in the Table of Contents). This section is a must for every reader of the book, whether they are familiar with Japanese ghosts and creatures or not. Each monster encountered in the stories is explained, enriching the book with these additional details.
Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose serve up a platter of delicious terror to delight the senses of even the pickiest horror fan. Hungry Ghosts is not only a must read for fans of the genre, but one to purchase and savor, then keep on the shelf for second, thirds, and much more.
Creative Team: Writers – Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose; Artists – Albert Ponticelli, Vanessa Del Rey, Leonardo Manco, Mateus Santolouco, Sebastian Cabrol, Paul Pope, Irene Koh, and Francesco Francavilla; Colorist – José Villarrubia; Lettering – Sal Cipriano; Editor – Karen Berger
Publisher: Dark Horse Books / Berger Books
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