What begins as one man’s fascination with spirals soon infects a whole town as it becomes ominously besieged by the shape.
In the last few years Japan has shown itself to be somewhat of a leading light when it comes to horror films. Whether it be ghastly gore or ghostly goings on, this nation has brought some innovative terrors our way. But if the post-Ringu style knock-offs has become a little stale to you then Uzumaki could well be right up your street. Combining the arty/surreal/horror/strange town movie elements to full effect, director Higuchinsky shows us all once more that the Japanese still have some terrifying tricks up their sleeves.
Ok, I know that the idea of a town, er, spiraling out of control doesn’t sound all that horrific or, for that matter, believable, but Uzumaki is both of these things. Taking a subtle, creeping paranoia and mixing it with moody, artistic visuals, a smattering of gore and some nicely down-played characters, this film is a beautiful, frightening and highly original horror quite unlike anything else. And just like its namesake (Uzumaki literally translates as ‘vortex’) it draws you in and envelops you in itself until you are as curiously and unwittingly spellbound as its characters.
It’s hard to believe this is Higuchinsky’s first feature film as it is a project as ambitious and inviting of failure as any other he could have chosen. Based on a manga comic (to bring these to life without courting criticism is a notoriously hard feat in itself, prone as they are to lose much of their charm in the move to live-action adaptation) and featuring one of the most conceptually bizarre ideas in cinematic history, it transfers miraculously well to the big screen.
Visually this film is strikingly morose, capturing the imaginary origin nicely as a town that lives in an almost-reality; basking permanently in a green haze and having the feeling of a bubble-like existence, this is a place which dwells in an exaggerated reproduction of reality. The town retains a mixture of innocence and foreboding in its fairytale-like unreality where the inhabitants reside in their dingy green-hued world where some comic style wipes help keep the manga roots. As is fitting for a film about shapes, Uzumaki has an emphasis on the visual with a highly, but not overly or pretentiously, stylised appearance. Though it is a horror and there are some gruesome deaths, the gore is not as relished or as lingered upon as we’ve come to expect from the Japanese, this is more nightmarish and atmospheric than tangibly horrific.
Whilst Uzumaki conjures a fantastically surreal atmosphere of a nightmare taking shape, it wisely retains some semblance of normality. Though nothing is ever really defined and so much is ambiguous there are some elements which keep it rooted in reality; the investigation and the relationship between the protagonist and her childhood friend keep a more traditional foundation to the otherwise bizarre goings on. There is a tinge of humour to the proceedings, too, which feels slightly familiar to 1989’s gross-out horror, Society, giving the edge of the film being able to make light of itself and not taking itself too seriously. Eriko Hatsune and Fhi Fan, too, are perfectly cast as childhood chums with an inkling something’s up, Kirie Goshima and Shuichi Saito respectively. But it is the incredible visuals and surreal atmosphere that make this film not only an amazing success as an adaptation, but also as a film in its own right. The fact that a film about a shape, with all the horrors that we see on our screens these days, is capable of being in any way frightening at all is a testament to the success of Higuchinsky’s direction. Very different, very strange, very good.
Extremely artistic, bizarre, surreal and creepily atmospheric; a wonderfully weird treat. Please, sir, can I have some more?