Kirie, one of the residents of a remote town in Japan, is noticing a lot of odd things going on around her, such as her boyfriend’s father staring and filming snails crawling up a wall while babbling nonsense. When she reports this to her boyfriend Shuichi, he’s not surprised in the least. His father has become obsessed with spirals, so much so that he’s hijacked an entire room in their house and filled it to the brim with spirals. He believes the town has fallen under the curse of the spiral and that they need to escape immediately, but Kirie just chalks it up as paranoia and goes on about her life. The insanity is far from over however, and soon kids in the town are suddenly dripping with slime, the crematorium starts emitting smoke in spirals, and the townspeople are dropping like flies; and the worst is still yet to come.
Being a big follower of manga creator Junji Ito, I can say with confidence that Uzumaki is without question the finest representation of his work ever translated to the big screen (even star Eriko Hatsune looks like Kirie from the manga come to life). Fans of the manga that read the entire three volumes before watching the film may disagree, but what they may not realize is that the manga was unfinished at the time Higuchinsky helmed the film adaptation. This is a common practice in Japan when basing something on a manga, as there are countless anime series that have radically different endings since their manga counterpart is/was still ongoing at the time of the TV series conclusion. For a quick example, the Berserk anime ran in 1998, and the manga it was based on is still going strong today, over 10 years later. So when taking all of this into consideration, I think director Higuchinsky did a commendable job in coming up with his own conclusion to the Uzumaki story. Sure, it’s pretty open-ended, but just keep this in mind: there’s a spiral in everything.
And boy, is there! For those with a keen eye, you’ll probably be able to spot a spiral lurking somewhere in the background in nearly every shot. It’s like a demented Where’s Waldo, and if you were to make a drinking game of it, you’d be sloppy drunk in under a half-hour. And it’s these little things that makes Uzumaki come together so well. Nothing about the production is half-assed, and such passion has obviously gone into each and every frame it’s hard not to appreciate what Higuchinsky has achieved here. The world, as absurd as it is, feels real, which makes all of the madness going on in its confines all the more jarring. There are multiple occasions where you’ll find yourself wondering if you should be laughing at the ridiculousness of it all or if you should be looking over your shoulder since the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up.
A lot of the fun of watching Uzumaki, at least for the first time (and it holds up remarkably well upon repeat viewings), is to see just how outlandish the film can go. The odd characters that inhabit the world just continue to get more bizarre as the curse of the spiral digs itself deeper into their subconscious, and whether it’s spiral hair-do’s or mutating into human snails, there’s always something wacky to look forward to around the corner, sometimes funny and sometimes darkly disturbing. The great FX enhance the fantastical feel of the film, at times almost reminiscent of a very twisted fairy tale. The CGI isn’t exactly realistic, taking on more of a cartoonish tone, but again, given the unusual story and being based off of a manga, it works just fine. It also allows for some pretty grotesque moments that aren’t too hard to swallow but shocking all the same.
Over the years, J-Horror has gotten a bad rap thanks to countless cash-ins on the long, black-haired ghost formula, and because of that I fear there are a number of people out there that have dismissed Uzumaki. You honestly need to change that right now. There are no long, black-haired ghosts, no deliberate, methodical pacing, and no tired twists. Uzumaki is undeniably one of, if not the most original horror offering to come out of Japan in the 2000’s, and any self-respecting fan of fantastic cinema needs to see it. If you find yourself salivating over the films of Nobuhiko Obayashi (Hausu in particular), it’s time to give into temptation and enter the warped nightmare that is Uzumaki. Just try not to stare at the spirals too long; I can’t guarantee your safety.
Eastern Star presents Uzumaki on DVD in a decent 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that is unfortunately not flagged for progressive scan. Even with that gripe, the film looks just about as good as it’s going to given the heavy green tinting used to give the film its moody atmosphere. Color reproduction is okay, and the image looks a bit soft, but this could all be due to the tinting technique, so I’m not going to complain about it. The included 5.1 Dolby Digital track is really good, with tons of directionality that gives every speaker a nice work out. The optional English subtitles are good for the most part, but near they end they get a bit sloppy for a few lines, almost as if the QC director fell asleep for a minute or so. Still, this is just a minor annoyance.
The main extra here is a commentary track from director Higuchinsky. It’s actually listed as a “Director’s Narration”, and is much different than you’ve probably come to expect from these sorts of things. There’s large gaps where he doesn’t say a thing, but when something strikes him he talks about metaphors, adapting the source material, and so on. Two behind the scenes featurettes are up next, one that runs 10 minutes and is a more traditional piece, with interviews from the cast and crew, and a 4-minute segment shot with a handheld that shows the crew putting together a few of the scenes. Rounding out the extras are trailers for this and other Eastern Star releases.
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