Remember the Spirograph, the seemingly innocuous childhood toy that created intricate designs from an ever-narrowing coil of circles? Pure evil. At least according to Uzumaki, an amusingly obsessive Japanese horror film that posits the spiral as a swirling vortex, capable of hypnotizing an entire village and sucking its inhabitants into the void. Adapted from a manga comic by Junji Ito, the film splits the difference between the chilling, monochromatic look of black-and-white horror films like Village Of The Damned and the hyper-stylized excess of some Japanese animation, taking full advantage of the plasticity of live-action special effects. After cutting his teeth on music videos, first-time director Higuchinsky brings a relentless energy to the proceedings that occasionally sacrifices coherence at the altar of cool, but it always keeps a mesmerizing grip on the eye. Broken up into four chapters ("Premonition," "Erosion," "Visitation," and "Transmigration"), Uzumaki progresses like the life cycle of a butterfly, only the subjects begin as human beings and contort into giant snails, powerless to stop their bodies from betraying them. Childhood friends Eriko Hatsune and Fhi Fan are quick to recognize that something strange and horrible is happening to their town. Fan's father (Ren Osugi) spends hours videotaping snails and arranges his entire domestic life around their spiral shell pattern, amassing a huge collection of spiral-shaped objects and even demanding spiral fishcakes in his miso soup. Other signs of change are ever-present, from an outcast boy who leaves a trail of slime in his wake to the looping curls that are all the rage among cliquish schoolgirls. Sensing their imminent doom, Fan pleads with Hatsune to leave town and elope, but she becomes determined to get to the bottom of this mysterious phenomenon. At times, Uzumaki edges toward a creepy and satirical metaphor on youth conformity, like a high-school variation on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. But Higuchinsky's restlessly kinetic shooting style doesn't pause for anything; like a lot of music-video and commercial directors, his achievement is better considered shot-by-shot than as a whole. His crazed obsession with spiral shapes—in the clouds, in the dirt, on the water, on the body—recalls the letter "X" in Howard Hawks' Scarface, popping up without comment in the smallest corners of the frame. In effect, Higuchinsky turns the screen into another giant vortex, drawing the characters and the audience deeper into a dark, captivating spell.

Advertisement