Today’s selection: Uzumaki (2000, dir. Higuchinsky)
Available from: Discotek
Uzumaki (meaning “spiral/vortex”, but not to be confused with Ring sequel Rasen, which also means “spiral”) is based on a manga by Junji Ito, so if you’re familiar with his work, you know to expect lots of horror, madness, and gore and not a lot of explanations. Then again, Uzumaki is one of Ito’s most famous works, so odds are it was the starting point for the average Ito enthusiast.
The film adaptation takes a few liberties from the manga, but understandable ones, and in a few cases actually improves things. The original story is about a town infected by spirals, or the concept thereof, leading its inhabitants to cut off their fingerprints, grow hair into bizarre tentacle-ish masses, or even turn into snail monsters. While the original was told as a sequence of discreet shorts, the movie mixes them up so that all the chapters happen concurrently – when things go crazy at the end they can really go crazy. Of course, a lot was omitted, since the movie would have to be twice as long to fully tackle all three volumes, and the manga’s Lovecraft-on-crack conclusion chapters would likely have ballooned the film’s budget by tenfold. Some changes are cleverer in the movie, though, like the death in a tub being replaced by a washing machine (because, y’know, spirals).
The special effects range from pretty good to a little goofy, and I wish we were able to see as much of the snail people as the manga portrays. That might detract from the film’s sense of impending dread, however, and the mysterious spiral power (not in the Gurren Lagann sense), remixed pacing, and greenish color palette make Uzumaki one of the go-to iconic Japanese horror films.