UZUMAKIUpdated July, 2009
A creepy, shocking and surreal Japanese horror film, still in my top ten
Uzumaki begins in a remote coastal village where schoolgirl Kirie discovers that everyone around her is going crazy over spirals. A friend of her father becomes obsessed with collecting them wherever he finds them, like on snail shells. (Uzumaki translates as 'spiral' or 'vortex'). A schoolgirl trains her hair into spiral curls with lives of their own. Another pupil becomes fatally interested in the school's spiral staircase… As the town spirals out of control (sorry), Kirie finds herself in deepening danger.
From this bizarre but simple premise, this unique tale grows into something horrific, styled somewhere between David Lynch and Tim Burton. Director Higuchinsky easily excelled himself with this surreal masterpiece.
Kirie is played by Eriko Hatsune, who perfectly anchors the film emotionally - her affection for schoolfriend Shuichi (played by Fhi Fan, above), contrasts with the horrific events around them. Hatsune previously starred in Higuchinsky's Long Dream, another Junji Ito adaption Oshikiri and recently headed the cast in Apartment 1303.
Sadao Abe makes a memorable appearance as Kirie's unwanted admirer. Abe starred as the Kappa sprite in The Great Yokai War, but here plays a ludicrous no-hope love interest, with a D.A. hairstyle that could take your eye out. Rubber-faced Abe is a creative chameleon who seems to maximize the potential of any of the surreal roles he's given.
Incidentally, the schoolgirl with the Uzumaki hair is played by Hinako Saeki. It's a small part that makes a big impression. She also played the Ring fiend Sadako in the first ever Ring sequel, coincidentally called Spiral (or Rasen). Hinako appeared in another cult classic, the schoolgirl zombie fest Stacy.
The special visual effects, particularly the make-up, are horrifying and increasingly spectacular - one bizarre and gory death scene had to be toned down for the original release. A couple of the subtle 'morphs' thrown in as background detail have dated a little, looking too 'digital' against the organic prosthetic effects and overall filmic look.
Uzumaki is based on an epic manga story by artist and writer Junji Ito. His over-riding influence has been the manga artist Kazuo Umezu. To me, his manga are the scariest horror comics I've ever seen. If you watch Uzumaki and want to read more of the stories and learn how the story develops further, the whole series has been translated and published in America in three graphic novels. The look of the movie faithfully adapts Ito's illustrations.
Junji Ito's horror manga have also been adapted into several other Japanese horror films, such as the scary scarecrow movie Kakashi and the many Tomie films. So far there have been seven films inspired by Ito's femme fatale. The Tomie manga, also available in English, are among Ito's earliest work and not as visually accomplished as Uzumaki. I'd also like to see someonje try and adapt the freaky Gyo, where sea creatures start an invasion of the land,
I looked up what Higuchinsky was up to, but he's unfortunately disappeared from movie-making. Long Dream (also 2000) showed promise, but I was less impressed with it or Tokyo 10+1 (2003). In a perfect world, he'd helm a proper nine-hour epic trilogy of the full epic story of Uzumaki. From his Russian website, it looks like he now directs DVD and TV coverage of stadium concerts in Japan.
Uzumaki will be re-released on DVD in the US in September 2009. It has also been released in the UK and Hong Kong with English subtitles.