Uzumaki is based on the manga of the same name from Junji Ito. It has been pretty heavily changed so as to be a coherent single story rather than a string of individual events. The manga wasn’t finished when it came out so it only had references to the stories that had been written when it was made. I love when a story takes something completely innocuous and turns it into a horror object, so the idea of making an entire movie about how spirals are evil definitely got my interest. The movie was even good enough to make me go read the books.
Our main characters are Kirie and Shuichi, two friends since childhood that have both grown up in the town of Kurozu-cho, Japan. One day, Kirie finds Shuichi’s father filming a snail and Shuichi informs her that his dad has become more and more obsessed with spirals lately, even going so far as to stop working and filling an entire room up with spiral objects. Soon, more and more spiral related events start to occur around town with many turning deadly or just plain weird. The two of them try to make sense of what is going on even as the spiral curse on the town begins to claim their friends and family.
The film does a great job of capturing the feel of a Junji Ito manga with the themes of the surreal and horrific invading upon everyday life. The acting and setting are normal enough that when things start to get super weird it helps heighten the sense of wrongness about what’s going on. There is a ramping amount of spiral throughout the film as well. When it starts, you end up playing a little game of “spot the spiral” where you look for the swirl patterns in clouds or signs all through the town with some clever ones like Shuichi using a rotary phone at one point. The disparate stories all get combined well with most of them being changed enough that they begin to increase in horror as the intensity of the spiral madness increases.
Even before reading the manga it was based on, it was pretty easy to tell what the writers added on to the movie. They decided to add a subplot of a reporter that tries to find out the reason why the town is infected with spirals. Unfortunately, the kind of surrealist strange story that they were trying to tell doesn’t really benefit from having a backstory explaining why things are going crazy. Especially since the whole thing made little to no sense with some newspaper clippings about how mirrors were in the lake and mirror is the same letters as snake and snakes coil up and somehow this is supposed to explain some kind of curse on the town. I think it would hang tighter if they let it be an unexplainable cosmic level horror but since that storyline doesn’t really take center stage, it doesn’t end up ruining the pacing of the movie.
The film was definitely an interesting, warped tale that you could enjoy whether you were familiar with the source material or not. I’d give Uzumaki a 4 out of 5.
Favorite part of the movie: I love all the little hidden spirals to start and especially how the camera will occasionally spin around a shot adding another layer of spiral that you couldn’t get in a book.
Least favorite part: Honestly the whole snail-person story felt weirdly out of place, even in the manga.