U: Uzumaki (2000)

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uzumakiposterAnd here we are at the second of our double dips this Hubrisween season: thanks to a lack of movies beginning with the letter U, Checkpoint Telstar and myself are taking on the J-horror flick Uzumaki. If you got here first, don’t forget to hop over to his version, which is likely way more complete than mine will ever be.

Uzumaki stakes its claim to horror movie-ness with its initial image: a slow spiraling-up camera climb, its center a broken body with its brains splattered across a spiral floor pattern, surrounded by a spiral staircase, with various people staring down at the corpse.

As a translation of uzumaki means spiral, you can be pretty sure that these won’t be the last spirals you’ll see.

dark and greenOur protagonist will be Kirie (Eriko Hatsune), a schoolgirl who is soon going to be dealing with a mass of problems in her small town. Her childhood friend Suichi (Fhi Fan) is studying hard to get into a good Tokyo university, but his father (Ren Osughi) is experiencing a sort of downward spiral (ha!). Kirie discovers him videotaping a snail, oblivious to the world; Suichi tells her he has quit his job and is currently stealing anything with a spiral on on it, and sits his room for hours, staring at these artifacts.

uzumaki_1Kirie’s father (Tarô Suwa) is a potter of some small reknown, and has been commissioned by the nutter to make a plate with spiral patterns for him. Suichi eventually throws out his spiral collection in hopes of shocking him back reality; it only results in his father’s bizarre suicide in a washing machine, transforming himself into a spiral.

uzumaki-frontThis would be enough to ruin a young girl’s life, but there’s more weirdness going on; the apparent suicide at the movie’s beginning, one of Kirie’s attention-obsessed classmates’ hair suddenly growing out in spirals, a boy who is seemingly transforming into a human snail. The cremation of Suichi’s father results in a massive spiral cloud of ash with one curly tendril dipping into a local pond (the pond where Kirie’s father gets the clay for his pottery, of course). Suichi’s mother descends into madness, so fearful of spirals that she slices off her fingertips with scissors because her fingerprints are too reminiscent of her husband’s geometric insanity – which is spreading throughout the town.

uzumaki-spiraleUzumaki is based on a highly successful horror manga series by writer/artist Ito Junji (who humorously makes an appearance on a wanted poster at the local police station). Spirals are usually used for humorous effect in Japanese comics, and Ito wanted to attempt to subvert that, making the symbols something to be dreaded instead of laughed at. The film, by Akihiro Higuchi under the nom de guerre Higuchinsky, was made before the series even ended, so this story has two differnet endings, depending on the medium. That’s probably a nice surprise for fans of the manga who come to the movie after reading it, but rest assured, neither version has a particularly happy ending.

uzumaki_5Despite having several horrific visuals, Uzumaki tends to be satisfied with simply being weird instead of actually frightening. There is an unsettling greenish tint to almost every scene, and there are at least two sequences that build impressive amounts of tension, but are never capitalized upon. Odd sections of the frame give themselves to digital spiralling effects, some obvious, some not – instead of building a sense of dread, it becomes more like looking for the hidden images of Mickey Mouse at Disneyworld while you’re waiting in line.

Higuchinsky’s actors are incredibly game, even in the most absurd moments, and add considerably to what impact the movie can claim. Folks coming to Uzumaki expecting the terror of something like Ringu are going to be disappointed, but if you are looking for something out of the ordinary, with a strangely Lovecraftian approach, Uzumaki can certainly fit that bill.

Buy Uzumaki on Amazon


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  2. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the manga is amazing. It is one of the closest depictions I’ve seen of what a true Lovecraftian incursion from another dimension would be like. In fact, it occurs to me that Uzumaki has a great deal in common with Lovecraft’s “Colour out of Space”–in both, an ordinary thing (a spiral, a color) becomes an object of horror that drives people mad and eventually warps them physically. I also see a connection with Carpenter’s magnificent “In the Mouth of Madness”, in which a story drives people mad and eventually mutates them.

    And all of these bring to mind Borges and “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. Borges, of course, was familiar with Lovecraft, and even dedicated a story to HPL.

    Anyway, all this makes me glad that (so far) reality seems to be much more stable than it could be.

  3. I now need to see this one, as I saw screens of some of the spiral stuff and was confused because yep, that design is usually used as a humorous symbol. Well, you do learn something new every day after all…

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