Uzumaki originally began life as a three-volume horror manga by Junji Ito. The theme (according to Wikipedia) is as follows: The story concerns the inhabitants of the small Japanese town of Kurôzu-cho that seems to be cursed by supernatural events surrounding spirals. Many people become obsessed or paranoid about spiral shapes, which starts resulting in several gruesome deaths. Eventually people start transforming into something other than human, such as snails and twisted forms. In the end the town is cut off from the rest of the world, which leads to apocalyptic events and a revelation about the secret hidden under the lake in the middle of the town. [sic]
The film follows the manga to a great degree focusing on some aspects and leaving others out. The ending is different as the manga had not finished when the film was made.
Directed by Higuchinsky Uzumaki was his second foray into the world of film the first being a TV movie (Long Dream which also dealt with supernatural theme and was based on a comic) before doing films Higuchinsky directed music videos. Being a fan of manga he decided to make the feature film based on Junji Ito’s story.
Ito is well-known for doing “horror” comics. He also did Tomie. Tomie is another manga that has been made into feature films as well. Takashi Shimzu even made a version of it. Including Uzumaki and Tomie, 21 of Ito’s manga’s have been made into films.
Uzumaki tells of a small village that is “cursed” by spirals and it centres on schoolgirl Kirie Goshima, her boyfriend Shuichi Saito and his family; and some of Kirie’s classmates. A reporter comes to the town to investigate the odd events and he winds up being afflicted by the curse as well.
The deaths of those touched by the “curse of the spiral” all centre around spirals. One girl’s hair starts turning into intricate spiral shapes and traps her, starving her to death. Another lad gets wound around the tyre of a car that runs him down. Spirals have taken the village over and separated them from the world outside (except for the reporter).
Higuchinsky has taken great care to set the film up in the style of the manga. He uses green shading throughout, just like the manga does. He also sets the death scenes up “manga style;” copying set pieces from the book itself. Of course like the manga, spirals appear everywhere, often in places where you would not think to look.
There is quite a lot that did not make it into the film. The episode with the pregnant ladies from the village and their new babies is just one example. Other scenes; like the school boy turning into a snail-like creature is in the film and it’s done brilliantly, looking again just like a “live” manga.
The film also changed some of the character’s interaction. The girl with the spiral hair is originally competing with Kirie in a sort of spiral hair contest. In the manga Shuichi saves Kirie by cutting her curly locks off. In the film Kirie does not have a single curl on her head.
Most of the cast are first time actors with the exception of Beat Takeshi regular Ren Ohsugi and Keiko Takahashi. But this wealth of “new” talent does not hurt the film. This is a brilliant little film and it is fun to watch. Oddly enough, despite the excellent job that Higuchinsky does on this film, he has not worked on any further projects since 2003. Google his name and nothing comes up past that point.
If anyone out there knows what Higuchinsky is doing now, please let me know. I hate to think of all that talent going to waste. As I’ve said before he got his start doing music videos; and this was his first foray into feature films (his first being a TV film and not a proper feature length film) and he actually filmed Uzumaki in less than 2 weeks with a budget of under a million dollars. This type of ingenuity is hard to find.
Some critics have said that the film is hard to follow and confusing. As Higuchinsky himself said, “What’s so confusing? It’s a film about spirals.” I could not have put it any better myself.
Uzumaki is a definite 5 star film. It is also a film that should top any list of “films to see” before you shuffle off this mortal coil.
- “Sweet Android High-School” manga has us dying to learn Japanese (phandroid.com)
- Manga Studio 5 Will Bring Your Comic Book Vision to Life (mashable.com)
- Sasuke Uchiha (nerdredefined.wordpress.com)
- The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service – Slick, visceral horror (bizarrocentral.com)
- This Short Manga Shows How Tough Making Anime Can Be (kotaku.com)
- Hey, there’s something inside (infocult.typepad.com)
- How not to draw manga: Some free advice (robot6.comicbookresources.com)