In this collection of five non-supernatural horror stories, respectively titled “Navel,” “Bloodstream,” “Cowlick,” “Butt,” and “Chin,” author Asa Nonami expertly choreographs a slow but sure devolution from normal to abnormal as fixations on the eponymous body part lead to tragic consequences. Readers are left with chills running down their spines at each tale’s end.
In “Navel,” the opening tale, 17-year-old Minako comes to her mother Aiko saying that she wants plastic surgery on her belly button—to change it from a round hole to an attractive narrow slit. Aiko wed her husband in an arranged marriage 22 years ago, and throughout the years since, she has always supported her husband in the traditional role of stay-at-home wife and mother to their two daughters (older sister Chiharu is now a junior in college), entrusting all major decisions to him. Well aware of her mother’s usual ways and not wanting her father to know, Minako demands that Aiko give her the ¥120,000 to pay for the procedure at her own discretion, threatening that she will otherwise get the money through enjo kōsai—“compensated dating” with older men, often involving sexual favors—if she has to.
Aiko reluctantly agrees, and accompanies Minako to the plastic surgeon for the procedure. While she is there, Dr. Arai talks Aiko herself into a ¥1,300,000 facelift to remove the wrinkles around her eyes, which Aiko pays for out of the secret stash she’s squirreled away from household expenses over the years for special needs. Both girls are delighted by their mother’s new independent decisiveness and gush over how much younger she looks, but their father remains oblivious to the changes. Aiko continues with other procedures at Arai’s recommendation—liposuction to remove fat under her chin; blepharoplasties to tighten the sagging skin around her eyes. With her time for post-college job interviews approaching, Chiharu catches the cosmetic-surgery fever, too: she has a fold added to her eyelids, and undergoes a rhinoplasty to heighten her flat nose. In the story’s final scene, the father returns home drunk after drowning his sorrows over a setback at work, only to be welcomed by three young beauties he doesn’t recognize . . .
From women’s eternal quest for facial beauty to a man’s anti-hair-loss measures, a coed’s desire to lose weight, and a young man’s taste for violence, Nonami captures with perfect pitch the deep-seated human yearning to manipulate the image one presents to the world, deftly weaving it into the context of contemporary society as she illumines essential truths about the human condition.