The frame story of Hungry Ghosts, reminiscent of the Tales of the Crypt anthologies, begins with a ghoulish Russian host inviting a assembly of international chefs to play the samurai game of 100 Candles: “As night fell the warriors came together. In an adjoining room, the [one hundred] candles, or andon, were lit. On a table was placed a single mirror. The men sat in a circle. One by one, they told stories of Yokai, Yurei, and Obake. Monsters, ghosts, and shapeshifters. Tales of eerie, supernatural encounters and unexplained meaning, vengeance and karma, meant to bring fear into the hearts of their fellow warriors. Upon the end of each tale, the storyteller would extinguish one and on, look in the mirror to ensure he had not himself been possessed and then return to re-join his fellows. With each passing tale, the room slowly grew darker and darker, the tales scarier, more frightening. But as the telling of the one hundredth tale of horror approached, fearful participants would invariably stop, too terrified of invoking the wrath of the formidable spirits they had been summoning.”

The nine stories in the anthology are illustrated by different artists: Sebastian Cabrol, Vanesa Del Rey, Francesco Francavilla, Irene Koh, Leo Manco, Alberto Ponticelli, Paul Pope, and Mateus Santolouco. All of the illustrations are effective in vividly bringing the humanity, the horror, and the death and destruction, pardon the pun, alive for the reader. As in most anthologies, not all of the storylines and illustrations are equally mesmerizing, but taken as a total package, the book deserves a great deal of praise, including the eye-catching cover art by Paul Pope.

Substituting chefs for the samurai warriors who would be participating in such a storytelling endeavor highlights the potentiality of the kitchen crime scene where dangerous implements are utilized to prepare the food and, perhaps, the consumers of varied nourishment.

The first story, “The Starving Skeleton,” sets the theme of hungry ghosts, Gashadokuro, and that of horrific endings for those who lack kindness, generosity, and compassion. This is followed by “The Pirates,” narrated by an explicit and bawdy female storyteller who is chided, rather unfairly in my opinion, that her tale did not involve food. Her protester becomes the next storyteller and his story, “Salty Horse,” definitely focuses on food—and horror, of course. “The Heads” begins as a foil to the gluttony of the previous tale with a cook threatened with starvation because of poverty. The horror, however, is stepped up a notch as was promised from the onset with the instructions of the game. “Deep” explores the bullying practices in an elegant and formal French kitchen through the eyes of one of the chefs. The appearance and practices of a Kappa in that kitchen unquestionably evens the playing field. “Boil in the Belly,” also focuses on body parts of inspiring chefs and the horrendous remedies that the hosts must endure to get rid of their hungry ghosts, or at least, getting rid of them in the short term. “The Snow Woman” is a familiar and rewarding reworking of a traditional Japanese folktale and not, in my opinion, as frightening as some of the other tales. It could be that my familiarity with the story left me with admiration at the retelling rather than a reaction to the ghostly presence. The final story of the collection, “The Cow Head,” begins with threats of starvation and ends with the horrific consequences of cannibalism, and ultimately, the act of accepting the dare of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai [100 hundred candles] storytelling. This tale also completes the frame story established at the start. Bon Appetit!

Co-author Joel Rose made this storyteller’s heart sing with his concise and chatty background essay, complete with source notes, regarding the long legacy of Japanese haunting tales. I was also very pleased to find recipes to make some of the more palatable dishes mentioned in this book honoring Japanese food and the brief but informative “Handy Guide to the Legendary Ghostly Spirits behind our Terrifying Tales.” Completing the anthology is a cover gallery from the individual comic book issues of the series followed by two pages of biographies for the numerous illustrators involved in the creation of this attractive hard cover tribute to Bourdain’s vision, Japanese folklore, food, and EC Comics.

Intended for an adult reading audience, some of the language and imagery may be off putting for a teen collection but, for this fan of Japanese horror and food, the collection has a place of honor on my book shelves.

Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts
By Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose
Art by Paul Pope, Sebastian Cabrol, Vanesa Del Rey, Francesco Francavilla, Irene Koh, Leo Manco, Alberto Ponticelli, Mateus Santolouco, Jose Villarrubia
ISBN: 9781506706696
Dark Horse, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

  • Gail

    | She/Her Professor, Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta


    In addition to teaching at the School of Library and Information Studies (University of Alberta) where she is an adjunct professor, Gail tells stories and conducts workshops on a wide variety of topics across Canada and the United States. Each year she teaches the following courses for the University of Alberta. All of her courses are delivered online: Storytelling, Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries, Canadian Children’s Literature for School and Public Libraries and Young Adult Literature. She also teaches a course on Indigenous Literature for the ATEP program (Aboriginal Teacher Education Program) at the University of Alberta. Gail is the award-winning author of nine books on storytelling and folklore in popular culture.

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