“The Living Intestine” (short story) by Juza Unno
English Publication History: Science: Hopes & Fears [Volume 1: Selected Stories] (2018)
Original: Japanese (生きている腸), 1976
Translated by J. D. Wisgo, 2018
Receipt: Free from the translator
Synopsis: Ryuji has an odd yet productive relationship with Professor Kumamoto, productive in the sense that the doctor can provide Ryuji with whatever he needs… and for this favor, he needs 100 centimeters of intestine from the prison where the doctor works. It squirms suspended in fluid, but Ryuji has plans to ween it from its liquid womb to the open air. As it feeds on sugar water and begs for more, he theorizes that intestines might be intelligent. He names the intestinal segment Chiko and takes it as a pet, yet he plans to announce his discovery to the scientific community. To celebrate, he takes a week’s leave, follows up with the doctor, and eagerly returns home to Chiko’s warm embrace.
Analysis: Objects of mere attention can become objects of dear affection (quote me, that’s original). A few examples: 1) I don’t like kids much, but after teaching a few of the ankle-biters in solo lessons, they grew on me to the point where I felt avuncular; 2) I chose to write about international school mission statements for my graduate thesis, which turned into a passion for context, readability, and succinctness; 3) I decided to give Olaf Stapleton’s Last and First Men (1930) novel a lengthy review, and the longer I wrote it, the more I loved the book.
In “The Living Intestine,” the focus of objective inquiry is given to a tepid and subjective admiration. Little does Ryuji know, the admiration is mutual, but to what extent, he is unprepared.
Review: By far, this is my favorite story from the first volume of short stories, perhaps because of its topic of body horror.
Horror is a genre laden with the supernatural. I’ve read a few widely-liked horror novels but have always been turned off by the whole demon angle of most stories—it’s not scary or even mildly interesting. I knew one thing though: I loved stories that transform, mutate, or infect humans… and I found that sub-genre to be called “body horror”. (SFPotpourri)
The story may first have been published in 1976, but Juza Unno passed away in 1949, so it must have been written well before then. Given its purported age, it still maintains a vintage horror element that transcends decades, and will do so for probable centuries. I’m certain that, if read by horror editors or given greater exposure, this story could see widespread appreciation for not only body horror, but also of Japanese horror, for Juza Unno himself, and for J.D. Wisgo, the translator who has brought this little gem from obscurity.