Based on a three volume manga by Junji Ito, Uzumaki (The Spiral) is an original and interesting, if not entirely successful, Japanese horror film making its way over here in the wake of the phenomenal success of Ringu.
The inhabitants of a small Japanese seaside town come under the influence of a strange force that causes an obsession with spiral forms. One by one, the townspeople fall under its spell, the horror manifesting itself in different ways, its geometric pattern giving snails, food, and even the swirl of fingerprints an eerie quality that drives the inhabitants of Kurozou gradually insane. Kirie, a young schoolgirl, is the first to notice the strange behaviour in friends and neighbours and is powerless to prevent the obsession that is overwhelming everyone around her.
In one or two cases the victims fall prey to the spiral through their own weaknesses – a student who is always late to school starts exhibiting signs of unnatural snail-like growths on his body, while another exhibitionist student finds herself the centre of a spiral of attention. There is certainly potential to develop this theme, people descending on a self-inflicted and self-perpetuating spiral of terror, but this idea is never fully exploited or developed. A brief investigation into the origin and nature of Uzumaki is also left undeveloped and never really comes to anything as the inhabitants more and more randomly fall victim to ever more horrible and twisted (pun intended) deaths.
The screenwriter has developed the episodic nature of Junji Ito’s original manga, interweaving the various cases of Uzumaki, but in the process lessening their impact. The initial episode of Suichi’s father that introduces the spiral phenomenon in the manga develops well into the second half of the film and the final revelation of his fate is consequently rather over drawn-out, lessening any true impact or shock. Nevertheless, the film does retain a certain Lynchian quality – an unsettling acceptance by the characters of outlandish behaviour and bizarre occurrences.
The film also displays a strong visual sensibility. Tinted Matrix-like green the subdued palette emphasises the red and black tones, but doesn’t really succeed in creating the desired eerie atmosphere, coming across as rather clinical more than anything else. The dark filtering, camera angles and freeze-frames are reminiscent of Tetsuo and The City of Lost Children and remain attractive and interesting while never totally succeeding in marrying the style with the content. CG effects are used sparingly and effectively, subtly introducing spiral motifs into the background of shots, although there is a tendency to edit and cut away from gorier scenes. In some cases this is probably to not be too dependant on CGI for effects, but also, I believe, a requirement of the Japanese film ratings board not to dwell on some of the more horrific and imaginative scenes.
The picture is reasonably good, but this is mostly due to the highly stylised nature of the actual photography and its colour treatment. The film transfer itself has a certain softness and graininess that is more to do with the transfer than the use of filters and colour treatment applied to the film. The print is clearly video-sourced, exhibiting VHS cross-colouration on fences and in the grain of stone walls, particularly evident in freeze-frame. There is also quite a bit of artefacting which is probably a consequence of high compression as the film and extras have been fitted onto a single-layer DVD. The compression artefacts, while clearly present, do not cause much of a problem with the overall look of the film though, which in the main appears sharp and strongly contrasted with detailed blacks.
The soundtrack is only Dolby Digital 2.0, but it performs well and is reasonably robust. There is a DTS Stereo banner at the end of the film, so it would seem that a 2.0 soundtrack is consistent with the original theatrical release. Retailers of the non-anamorphic Hong Kong R3 DVD release also list it as containing a stereo soundtrack despite one review I have seen reporting a 5.1 soundtrack.
Subtitles are good, clear, easy to read and removable.
There are fairly detailed biographies and filmographies of the main cast and crew members. It comes as no surprise to see that the director, Higuchinsky, has a background in music videos before Uzumaki, his first feature film.
The promotional material consists of a single striking movie poster image for the film.
Some good stills are presented here without the green tint colour treatment. You can see additional images that have been edited out in the actual movie. This perhaps explains the 18 certificate that the DVD carries for the additional material rather than the film itself which has been rated with a 15 certificate.
Trailers are presented for Evil Dead Trap, Junk and Uzumaki itself. The Uzumaki trailer has English subtitles and a lot of spoilers, but looks really good.
This is a 10.47 minute making of documentary, subtitled in English. It is built around a fairly lightweight interview with lead actress Eriko Hatsune, with clips from the film and behind the scenes effects shots. It’s not bad and while it obviously contains some spoilers if you haven’t seen the film, it doesn’t detract from the film too much either.
A cover gallery from Artsmagic’s extensive range of Eastern cult, horror and swordplay releases.
Uzumaki has a certain striking stylishness that belies the relatively low budget that it was obviously made on and while it might not totally achieve its aim to shock and terrify, it does at least sustain a certain intensity and interest in the original and imaginative progression of horrific imagery and deaths that ensue throughout the film. There is certainly room for improvement in the DVD presentation, but a reasonably good anamorphic transfer makes this worth viewing.
This UK Region 2 DVD release from Artsmagic Ltd on their Eastern Cult Cinema label can be purchased direct via the Artsmagic website or through one of our site sponsors using the links below.