Friday, 20th October 2017. 3:51:30pm ET

 

Movie: Uzumaki
Company: Elite
Format: DVD
Reviewer: Joshua Heinrich
Date: 1/4/05

Uzumaki, now finally out on DVD in the US, has been on the receiving end of a lot of praise in the Asian horror community. Based on a manga by Junji Ito, the film is the bizarre (and bizarre is not used loosely) tale of a man driven insane by spirals. However, it doesn't end there. After his death, a series of connected events soon leaves the entire town cursed by spirals as, one by one, the townsfolk succumb to strange transformations and deaths. It's up to the man's son, Shuichi, and his son's girlfriend, Kirie, to solve the mystery of the spirals. Unfortunately, they really don't even give it a wholehearted attempt…leading to an annoyingly abrupt ending that resolves very little…but, hey, maybe they'll at least escape the onslaught of the snail people, right (and, no, I'm not kidding about the snail people)?

The film is certainly stylish. I'll give it that. Director Higichinsky has a penchant for close-ups, interesting cuts, effectively strange coloration, and subtle effects. Of course, many of the film's quick cuts and quirky close-ups, when combined with blatant overacting and quirky subject matter, almost take on something of a slapstick horror comedy vibe reminiscent of Peter Jackson's early work with a bit of Japanese anime thrown in. Perhaps (or should I say hopefully?) that was Higichinsky's intention. Afterall, if he was playing this one for straight horror, he failed miserably. Still, the visual effects are quite impressive and well used. Barely noticeable small spirals occasionally form in the sky and backgrounds throughout the film, and you may find yourself looking for them after a while. The more full-blown effects, like a huge swirling cloud that fills the sky, are equally impressive. Overall, it's a visually interesting film, albeit often in a quirky-bordering-on-corny sort of way. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is far less spectacular. Its cheesy blend of videogame-esque, sometimes carnival-ish, keyboard music is, however, suitable for the levity and oddity of the film.

Despite the praise lavished on Ito's original manga, it makes for a rather clumsy and uneven script. Much of the dialog is so short and to the point that it borders on silly. Of course, that perhaps suits the subject matter and the way Higichinsky handles the story. Horrific events are few and far between, and when they do happen, we're usually just given a passing glimpse or the townspeople don't react accordingly. For instance, a spiral cloud fills the sky and comes down to a pond like some sort of bizarre tornado. Yet, everyone seems to point for a few seconds and then shrugs it off. As everything is supposedly coming unraveled (despite the fact that we're given little evidence of that), our protagonists are busy spewing corny dialog while looking at the stars. There are some nicely done horror moments, but they're limited in number. As a whole, the story appears to be played for humor and quirkiness rather than horror, to varying degrees of success.

As for DVD extras, there's a sparse assortment of the ordinary. You'll find a trailer and a short behind-the-scenes documentary. There's also the short videotape filmed by one of the characters in the film, although you'd probably be more entertained watching paint dry for 5 minutes.

Is Uzumaki scary? Not even remotely, save for a few scenes. If you're looking for another Ringu or Ju-on, steer clear of this one. Instead, Uzumaki sort of draws a line between b-horror schlock and bizarre fantasy-horror and plays hopscotch throughout. It will indeed leave some viewers bewildered, unsure how to react or what to make of it. Even those who truly like the film may be disappointed by its lack of resolution. However, everyone will undoubtedly enjoy a few laughs and will, in all likelihood, start leaving spiral patterns around as sort of an inside joke aimed at whomever they watched it with. It's not what I'd call a modern Asian horror masterpiece by any means, but Uzumaki is at least memorable and may be just the ticket for b-horror fans looking for something quirky and unique to watch with friends.


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