Long Dream is a short horror manga from iconic horror mangaka Junji Ito. Interestingly, though, this short story serves as commentary on the human perception of death.
Just take me to the analysis already!
Long Dream starts in Japan at night with a woman in the neurosurgery ward of a hospital. Her existential dread of death changes to complete terror as she sees a silhouette in the door of her room, whom she assumes to be a male personification of death. She tells the doctors this in the morning, and they assure her that it was simply another patient from another ward. She still believes that he was death.
The doctors then begin conversing about the sleepwalking patient, Tetsuro Mukoda. This patient has been, for at least a month, experiencing dreams that only last a night but are experienced as a handful of days. Every night, though, the dream is experienced a bit longer than the last. These are not happy dreams, but dreams of terror and pain.
Mukoda then mentions that he now experiences each dream as about a year long.
The doctor decides to test this by observing Mukoda as he sleeps. He finds that during his sleep, Mukoda suddenly experiences convlusions and his eyes rapidly move.
While this happened very quickly, the doctor realises that this is when the dreams take place. The doctor continues to meet with Mukoda the following days. At this point, Mukoda's dreams last a decade. While the doctor assures him that the long dreams were simply an illusion, Mukoda insists that it was a different feeling to actually experience the dream. That past night, Mukoda ran through a jungle from the enemy for ten years. The night before that, he took constant exams and all-nighters for nine years. The night before that, he searched for a nonexistent toilet for eight years.
The doctor assures Mukoda that he is working on finding a solution, though Mukoda warns him that his dreams could stretch to centuries. The doctors continue to observe him both while he sleeps and right after. The twentieth day of being in the hospital, Mukoda has dreams lasting fifty years. Every month in the hospital, Mukoda starts speaking with different intonation. Mukoda is experiencing the actual developments in human language that would happen over half a century.
Mukoda's body itself eventually begins to change, as if he evolved over the time he dreamed.
At this point, Mukoda awakes, utterly confused about where he is. Then, he begins to believe that he is still in the dream. In this dream, he was married to the death-fearing patient from the beginning of the story. Mukoda rushes out of his room to find her. When he enters her room, she becomes immediately terrified. She believes him to be death and tries to escape. Mukoda is then pulled out of the room, devestated. When he goes back to his room, the doctors explain that it was all a long dream. Mokuda then tells the doctor, speculating that if his dreams keep getting longer, could one become infinite in time? “What happens to the man who awakes from an endless dream?” he posits.
The death-fearing patient is still seen screaming, terrified of death. That night, Mukoda seems to experience an eternal dream. Once more, his body changes.
In the morning, the doctor awakes to sunlight shining through the windows onto Mukoda's monstrous body. Mukoda's body begins to crumble until it becomes a pile in his bed.
Before the doctor can even touch it, a gust of wind blows the rocks into the air.
In the pile, there are some strange rocks of Mukoda's dissolved brain. The doctor theorizes that they are related to Mukoda's long dreams, but could observe nothing through the microscope.
Soon after, the death-fearing patient begins to have long dreams. The doctor tells the other that he had been giving her Mukoda's mind crystals. He thinks that by allowing her to experience infinite time, her fear of death would be cured. The other doctor becomes furious that he would even attempt it.
The last panel simply shows the death-fearing patient in bed. Her hands are crossed like Mukoda. Her forehad shows some changes like Mukoda. What happens to thewoman who awakes from an endless dream?
As stated in the introduction, I believe this story to be about the human perception of death. The death-fearing patient represents the common human fear of death, or necrophobia. As she says, “I'm going to disappear from this Earth. I'm going to cease to exist.” Mukoda, on the other hand, represents the far less common human fear of immortality, or apeirophobia. His worries of experiencing an eternal dream increase over the course of the story. Then, towards the end, he seems to experience just that. The commentary on our human perception, though, comes from the juxtaposition of these two seemingly contradictory beliefs. It is easy for the reader to understand and agree with these two viewpoints. None of us want to truly disappear from this Earth, our mind and soul going somewhere else or simply disappearing. None of us want to be immortal, either. With an infinite life comes infinite possibilities for both pleasure and torment. We have this feeling that our life should end at some point. Through juxtaposing these seemingly contradictory beliefs of the characters, of which we can easily relate to, Junji Ito provides commentary on the human perception of death.
While not directly a part of my analysis of this story, it is still interesting to investigate the things it alludes to. For example, it alludes to the dream argument. Mukoda is seen believing that his dreams are reality. This follows the philosophy of the dream argument, where reality as we believe it to be could be just a dream.
Read Long Dream on Imgur
Philosophy on the Fear of Death
More Philosophy on the Fear of Death
While the copyright to the manga illustrations belong to their creator, Junji Ito; their publisher, VIZ Media LLC; and their translator, Daniel Lau; it falls under fair use as it is used for a non-profit and educational purpose.
This webpage was originally published 24 October 2020 and was last modified 26 February 2021.