Mountain of Gods is one of the chapters in an anthology of manga stories about mountain demons called Yama Kaidan. Yama Kaidan roughly translates to “Mountain Stairs”.
You can read Mountain of Gods online here.
That man wasn’t smiling. He was sneering at me with immense hatred.Ishida describes his encounter with The Sneering Man
Mountain of Gods — Synopsis
This story tells of three hikers who are comparing their past hikes with one another. However, the story soon veers into the spooky as the subject of a recently-missing woman hiker comes into the conversation. All that they know is that she went out hiking from the same cabin they now sit in, happy as can be – according to the cabin manager, but who was discovered dead at the foot of a snowy drop.
This brings to mind eerie encounters that each of them has had on their past hikes, which they each describe in turn. One tells of becoming alone on a mountain-top path before seeing a very thin, sneering man coming towards him at an unnatural pace. Another tells of a similar face pressing its way through his tent, Freddy Krueger style.
But will the mystery of this sneering man (is it even a man?) or the death of the lady hiker ever be solved?
I think that this story is supposed to do what nearly all ghost stories do. It tells of an unnatural occurrence with some malevolent force, but never gives any explanation of it. This is told purely from the perspective of the hikers in the cabin and their own memories and imaginations on what they think could have happened. We are left to wonder whether there even is such a person as the sneering man, or whether it is a common hallucination from being up so high in the altitude.
It felt almost light in content when I first read it, partially due to the static nature of the main characters. But as I re-read it multiple times, the grimacing face of the sneering man began to grow on me. And once I learned it was actually part of a larger anthology from multiple artists, it all came together. Although I do enjoy this for what it is, a short ghost story about a hiking urban legend, I believe that it would sit much better when read along with the other stories in its collection.
I haven’t been able to find any of the other chapters from the Yama Kaidan anthology. All I know is that it is a collection of mountain-related ghost stories about gods or demons that could live in the mountains. If you find any of the other chapters, please do let me know in the comments below. Thank You. 🙂
The Sneering Man
The Sneering man, like Fuchi from Fashion Model, is a character that I would love to see much more of. It’s almost teasing that we get the short glimpses of this person in Mountain of Gods.
Despite this being a lesser-known Junji Ito work, I think it is one of the best examples I’ve seen of him slowly revealing horror on the page. If you look at the first glimpses of the sneering man, and the switching between it and Ishida as they get closer, the way in which the true nature of the strange figure is revealed is incredible. The way that the smile reveals slight arching in the corners of the mouth as it comes into focus. The darkening of the facial features as the distance between them shortens. Then that horrific grimacing full-page face that almost scares you out of your seat.
A big part of me is always glad when a menacing figure such as this remains mysterious. There’s nothing worse than having everything explained to you when your own imagination can be so much scarier at times. But there is a small part of me that would kind of like to know where this sneering man came from.
Mountain of Gods: Precipice of the Unknown is a great short story to give you the creeps before bed time. The character of the Sneering man will surely stick with you after reading — I think that face is almost etched on the back of my eyelids. 😀
Due to it’s minimal graphic horror, I think this would be perhaps a good introduction to Junji Ito’s work, for those who haven’t read his stuff before. I mean, it in no way represents the crazy imagination that you will find in say, Uzumaki or Tomie. But if you are looking to tread lightly into Ito’s world, this could be a good choice for you.
I’ve only been able to find this story in a translated version for my own language on Manga Rock. But please always support Junji Ito where you can by buying his official works.
Be careful when you go out walking…