Sunday, March 25, 2018

Uzumaki (2000)

The town of Korouzu seems perfectly normal until Shuichi's father becomes fascinated with spirals. In itself, it's not terrible, but he becomes obsessed with it, mistreating his family and leaving work to look at more spirals. When he dies, the obsession doesn't end with him and spreads to a slew of other people including a reporter fascinating with his story, a slow moving student, and students willing to do anything to get attention. Kirei sees the spiral probelm become bigger and bigger around her until it threatens everything she's known.

Uzumaki is based on the manga by Junji Ito of the same name. This film pales in comparison to its source material, but it's incredibly ambitious in what how it tried to capture the manga's surreal, all encompassing horror. The visual effects in particular manage to replicate so many scenes right out of the manga that are striking and unlike anything I've seen even today in movies. I was shocked that so many of the creepy incidences were included such as students turning into human sized snails, possessed spiral hair hypnotizing classmates and sucking the energy from the owner, and one woman fearing spirals so much she removes all of them from her body. It packs the same chilling punch and surprised me even though I knew what to expect. Spirals are shown everywhere in pottery, noodles, bodies, staircases, and in much more subtle ways like the prevalence of the number 6 in the background and the use of outdated rotary phones.

The stories at Kirei's and Shuichi's high school are some of the best because it captures the high school experience. Before the spiral fever strikes hard, many teens go above and beyond to garner attention of their peers. A teen even accidentally kills themselves trying to show off and others (especially the girl with the parastic spiral hair) see it as worth it and something to admire. The compulsion of the spiral melds with typical high school anxieties about bullying, being popular, and pursuing a significant other. Yamaguchi's story of pursuing Kirei in the most annoying way possible, popping out and surprising her at every turn until she stays yes, is present through most of the film. I like that it's portrayed as invasive, weird, and unwelcome right from the beginning, but it increases in intensity as it goes on. The high school and coming of age elements feel more effective in the film than in the manga.

Unfortunately, this film has quite a few limitations because of the era it was made. In many scenes, a photoshopped spiral is placed that seems so easy to make today. Almost every time I saw it, it brought me out of the film. Many of the effects are decent, but showstopping scenes like Shuichi's father's fate aren't really able to be shown. The ending is a bit underwhelming because it wasn't able to get as large scale as the manga. Some storylines are forgotten, completely robbing any emotional impact of some scenes. For instance, Shuichi's mother's fate would have been much more impactful if anyone actually saw it, but it never happened. Also, Kirei is never affected by the spiral for some reason. It has the flavor of the final girl trope, but there's no real reason for it. I preferred the manga where she managed to escape many times from its influence and gained strength each time. All the characters also felt like over the top caricatures even with the dull attempt to fill in the backstory to Kirei's and Shuchi's relationship.

Uzumaki is a flawed film that still has visually striking and disturbing imagery and captures many surreal moments in the manga. While it's a worthwhile film, I would love to see it remade with today's technology. It would widen the film's scope and make them able to show much more of the crazy spiral manifestations. I am also saddened that this film isn't very well known and isn't in print anymore. It's almost impossible to view without overpaying for the DVD and it isn't streaming anywhere. If you have the opportunity to watch it, I would recommend it.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

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