Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Based on Junji Ito's acclaimed manga of the same title, Uzumaki is a live action look at a small Japanese town where life is dominated by spirals. Obsession with the ubiquity and deep symbology of the spiral pattern leads young Shiuchi's father to his doom, but one man's transformation is only the beginning for this isolated community, where time itself seems to be moving in smaller and smaller circles, events subtly repeating themselves with no one able to understand what's happening to them. Only Shiuchi's urgent warnings can prompt his girlfriend Kirie to start looking for a way out - but is it already too late?

Drawing on ancient legends of snake cults and close observations of nature, Uzumaki develops into one of the most strikingly original Japanese horror movies of its era, though it makes affectionate references to other classics of the genre. Self-conscious though it may be, its weirdness generally works, so slowly does it draw the viewer in. By the time people start mutilating themselves and turning into human snails, the internal logic of the piece has such a solid grip that it's the outsider - the news reporter looking forward to escaping the town - who seems odd.

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Meanwhile, our heroine, seemingly protected by her own quiet self-obsession, navigates a high school filled with all the usual equally illogical social posturing and nastiness. Occasional hints at hentai are redeemed by the intervention of Sixties style geometric hallucinations which tell us as much about the characters' mental states as each of the film's confident performances.

That such a profoundly psychological film should gradually disintegrate into a monster movie seems unfortunate, but it's never clear how real the freakish things on display are, as we never really have an outsider's perspective. Characters come and go, some wasted without having much chance to develop, but this is always a problem with adaptations of comics, and it's one which, by and large, Uzumaki successfully works around. Kirie, though somewhat blank, is sufficiently engaging to keep audience attention. A more forceful central character might easily have overwhelmed the all-important mood of the film.

For a film which relies so heavily on special effects, Uzumaki is hampered by poor technical work, with far too many shots looking awkward and artificial than ought to be the case. This is at odds with an otherwise smooth visual style. The film features some beautiful photography, and its evocative lighting is reminiscent of Jeunet and Caro at their best. This effect is compounded by its visual development of the spiral motif itself, present in almost every scene, though not always obviously, and the sets are superbly structured around it. Even if you can't get into the story at all, Uzumaki offers a treat for your eyes.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2009
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Uzumaki packshot
The people of a small town gradually become obsessed with spirals.
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Director: Higuchinsky

Writer: Kengo Kaji, based on the manga by Junji Ito.

Starring: Eriko Hatsune, Fhi Fan, Hinako Saeki, Eun-Kyung Shin, Keiko Takahashi, Ren Osugi, Denden

Year: 2000

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


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