2000/Director: Higuchinsky/Writers:Junji Ito (manga), Kengo Kaji (supervising screenwriter)
Cast: Eriko Hatsune, Fhi Fan, Hinako Saeki, Eun-Kyung Shin, Keiko Takahashi, Ren Osugi
I think I have mentioned in a few previous posts about my ambivalence towards more modern Japanese (and Asian in general, though I consider Japan to be yardstick by which the rest of Asian cultures is measured, for better or worse) horror films, or cinema in general. Which rare exceptions I find most of it wanting and I much prefer the Japanese cinema prior to about 1970. Uzumaki is for me one the exceptions. I had long put off watching this movie for one reason or another, but it was on my list of films to see before I died so I finally popped it in the DVD player and was pleased with the results, though it is a far from perfect horror film. I got the BT from and was surprised to the find the entire manga comic series by Junji Ito included. I included, free of charge, a few pages for readers to check out. To honest I had no ideas this was based on a comic book unit I opened the folder. But like the film I was pleased with the story and art which I glanced over. I tend to not like the goofy looking fairy like characters that adorn the majority of manga comics and I felt the drawing in Junji Ito’s story to look more like the b/w independent stuff coming out of the US from places like Fantagraphic books.
The story takes place in the small Japanese city of Kurouzu which has come under the curse of evil spirals (or vortexs as they are called in the translation). It is not clear why the town is cursed but soon schoolgirl Kirie and her childhood boyfriend Shuichi are at the center of the escalating nightmare. Kirie finds Shuichi’s father absorbed in filming the spiral aptterns on a snails back one day on the way home from school. Soon there is a suicide at the school when a boy leaps from the top of a very high spiral staircase, landing at the bottom with blood and brains splattered everywhere. Things get more and more out of control as Shuichi’s father loses his mind under the influence of the vortex curse, one night almost losing control when there are no more spiral patterned naturo fish rolls in his miso soup. He convinces Kirie’s father, a pottery maker, that the vortex is the highest form of art and asks him to design a vortex patterned plate. Soon Kirie’s father is pulled into the curse. The situation at home is not the only concerns since at school students are turning into snails and having their hair grow out into elaborate spiral like designs the size of trees. The spiral (vortexs… it really bothers me how these films are translated at times. The term spiral is never once used though sometimes it is the better word to use. We do not say a “votex staircase”) motif appears all over the film, though not as frequently as in the comic book story. Eventually even the dark clouds in the sky assume a menacing spiral pattern.
Shuichi’s father eventually decides he wants to become a vortex himself. What better way to achieve this than to crawl into the washing machine and click it on. His mother winds up in the hospital in despair and she soon clips off all her hair as to eliminate any spiral designs. Soon she realizes her finger prints are spirals and…well… you can guess the rest right? She kills herself after a centipede tries to slither down her ear and soon her dead husband is calling to her from the other side, where there are perfect vortexes. Shichi himself gets all tied in knots, literally, and in the last scenes we see the towns people all under the effects of the vortex curse, except for Kirie. One memorable scene as her stalker admirer throw himself under a moving car so she will always remember him and he gets all twisted around the wheel and rim. The film ends with unanswered questions but most movies like this do. The comic book seemed to go off into other directions, such as many of the town’s folk turning into dangerous zombie like creatures. While some people in the film appear “zombiefied” they never collect together and terrorize Kirie as they do in the manga story. The film is shot using a greenish hue and it looks eerie. The music score is good and the acting above average. There are no gratuitous school girl panty shots and no sex, which is actually a relief and gives this Japanese shocker a boost in the credibility department. So many newer Japanese horror films are of the Pinku Eiga style, which is simply softcore porn with a few mutilations thrown in to balance things out. Nothing like seeing a young naked Japanese school girl in one scene and then a disemboweled, blood drenched one in the next to push all the borderline personalities watching right over the edge. I thought the film was creepy and well made and the effects and photography are pretty good for this style of movie. If you can get the comic book, if that is your bag, as I think it is actually a better story.
SAMPLES FROM THE UZUMAKE MANGA BY JUNJI ITO