The suspension of disbelief is important for any compelling story. The audience must be, in a sense, tricked into believing the fiction that the creator has weaved. Stories are more compelling as this is done better. It seems reasonable to conclude, then, that such an incongruity as the narration of events that could never be narrated would shatter this suspension of disbelief. If the narration is presented as a first-hand testimony of, say, the French Revolution, but then they begin by stating that they were born centuries after its occurrence, the audience would have no reason to believe or be invested in the story because of the shattering of this suspension. Despite this, the peculiar thing about what Junji Ito does in their work, Uzumaki, is compellingly present a first-hand account of the story’s events that impossible. By the way that this impossible first-hand account is employed, Junji Ito still reasonably suspends the audience’s disbelief, enhances the emotional force of the story, and creates interesting opportunities for plot exposition.
The technique employed is simple: the story of Uzumaki is narrated as a first-hand retelling of the story’s events even though, by the story’s conclusion, this story could never be retold. Uzumaki opens up with the protagonist, Kirie, inviting the reader to listen to her retelling of the horrific events that occurred in her town. The perspective shown throughout the work is completely that of Kirie’s and the narration is always past-tense, sometimes even with reflective remarks like, “at that time I just didn’t see it… I didn’t see how his body was twisted” (160 Ito). As such, it’s clear that the events of the story are being communicated to the reader as a kind of relaying of the protagonist’s prior experience. Given this relay, it necessitates that the protagonist is in a position to communicate this experience to the reader or else the narration would be unreliable. It is, in fact, by the story’s conclusion that the narration proves to be unreliable. The ending chapter of the book concludes on a kind of de facto death of the narrator or at least such a state as to render all future communications impossible. Therein lies the incongruity: the narration is presented as a first-hand retelling of events even though such events, given the narrator’s final disposition, could never be retold.
Despite the logical inconsistency, the technique proves effective in suspending the disbelief of the audience. One of the better ways to immerse the audience in the story is to give them a first-hand account of the events. The protagonist serves as the gateway to the story’s experience and as the audience comes to identify the the protagonist, they become more emotionally-invested in the protagonist’s experiences (i.e. the story). Additionally, a first-hand, emotionally-charged retelling of events that the protagonist experiences is more gripping because the audience can vicariously experience that perspective; it’s not merely a distanced report. Humans experience life in the first-person degree and so a first-person retelling is far more identifiable. So, while the first-hand narration creates a more intense and immersive experience for the audience, what is to be said of the incongruity that the story ends with? Well, up until the very end, the narrative technique reasonably suspends disbelief in the events of the story. If, by the very end of the story, the narrator dies and the narration is rendered unreliable, it matters little because the audience has already had their disbelief suspended throughout the length of the story. There is no further need for that suspension and so the logical contradiction is at no consequence.
Junji Ito’s Uzumaki demonstrates that such an impossible narration can be very effective in immersing the reader in the story and that the impossibility of the narration, while otherwise breaking the suspension of disbelief, can contribute toward the suspension of disbelief when that impossibility is timed correctly. As an additional note, the impossibility of such a narration creates some interesting story opportunities. For example, it means that the audience can be shown circumstances which ultimately lead to the protagonist’s death. As Uzumaki draws to a close, the protagonist enters into an inescapable world which would never be possible if the story concluded on their survival. Perhaps one of the more interesting and potent aspects of the story is shown in its full glory because Junji Ito is not restricted by the incongruity its display would create. Uzumaki exemplifies the way in which impossible narrations can effectively suspend disbelief and how they broaden the experience the audience has access to.
Ito, Junji. Uzumaki. VIZ Media. 2013. Print.