Uzumaki

"Weak"

Uzumaki Review


Originally conceived as a manga graphic novel by Junji Ito, the new Japanese horror film Uzumaki doesn't survive the cinematic translation. Those expecting another meta-thriller like Hideo Nakata's popular Ring series and Kiyoski Kurosawa's Cure may find some haunting, Escher-like visuals and an appropriately disturbing apocalypse-bop finale, but this directorial debut from music video show-off Higuchinsky is all flash. Inattentive to genre basics like mood, suspense, creepy lighting (as opposed to boy band lighting), and character development, Uzumaki works on the level of visceral sideshow thrills: watch the snail people climb up a wall, see the human contortionist twist his body into a pretzel, see the hospital-bound grieving widow slice off her fingertips before doing battle with an insect predator. If it weren't cursed with the Charlie's Angels-short attention span video-trained directors have been bombarding us with, Uzumaki might be commended for its spate of bedazzling creature effects.

Anything goes in Asian horror, using basic plot scenarios to tap into feverish nightmare set pieces. Possessed by a bizarre supernatural force, the residents of a small seaside village become obsessive over spiral shapes and snail shells. A schoolgirl weaves her hair into a Medusa pattern, other children start taking on the characteristics of amphibian creatures, and there are a series of cult-induced suicides. Amidst this slow building carnage are a young couple (Eriko Hatsune and Fhi Fan) who consider eloping, but their Scooby Doo curiosity gets the best of them and they attempt to solve the mystery. All the makings of a first rate creepshow are there (consider John Carpenter's terrific In the Mouth of Madness as the American version), but Higuchinsky hasn't seen enough surrealist-nightmare Dario Argento movies and it quickly devolves into the attention-grabbing camera tricks that similarly undermined Michel Gondry's Human Nature. Unable to sustain mood, they go for high concept designs that might work in a three-minute video but grow quickly tiresome in a full-length feature.

Part of that might have to do with Uzumaki's beginnings as a comic book. On the animated page, Junji Ito wouldn't be required to provide nervous anticipation from one scene to another. Individual shots of the movie would work nicely as comic panels but become all about that surface prettiness (or ghastliness) on celluloid. When the young people ride through town on their bicycle, it's visually opulent but little more than that. It might as well be an advertisement for designer jeans. And sequences that should be frightening (like the hospital encounter with a creepy crawly insect) are so cut-up with black-and-white inserts, neon tints, and distracting cutaways to previous scenes that it fails to sustain any mood of its own. There is so much directorial muscle flexing (or "big dick directing", as Matt Zoller Seitz of the NY Press dubbed it after Paul Thomas Anderson's tame-by-comparison Boogie Nights) that the true horror is overshadowed by the true style.

Japan has been the last refuge of the genuine horror film. '70s and early '80s American pioneers of the form like George Romero, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Sam Raimi have lost their touch or have stopped making movies altogether, though their influence in clearly felt on the new guard of Asian filmmakers. There's also a touch of Cronenberg, Lynch, and the aforementioned Argento. Stateside horror fans owe it to themselves to seek out this alternative to the now-tired Scream rip-offs that crowd our multiplexes. Uzumaki wouldn't make the ideal starting point, but fans of this particular subgenre might find it worthwhile. In its final montage of still-life death scenes, the film displays a morbid and intriguing fascination with bizarre crime scenes. It's too bad that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer accomplished as much in its opening sequence and moved on from there. Hopefully, the Uzumaki series will too during its inevitable sequels.

Aka Spiral.



Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Thursday 10th November 1932

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

IMDB: 3.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Higuchinsky

Producer:

Starring: as Kirie Goshima, as Shuichi Saito, as Kyoko Sekino, Shin Eun-Kyung as Chie Marayama, Keiko Takahashi as Yukie Saito, as Toshio Saito, Denden as Officer Futada, Masami Horiuchi as Reporter Ichiro Tamura, Tarô Suwa as Yasuo Goshima, Tooru Teduka as Yokota Ikuo, Sadao Abe as Mitsuru Yamaguchi, Asumi Miwa as Shiho Ishikawa, Saori Nakane as Little Kirie, Yasuki Tanaka as Little Shuichi, Yuki Murakami as Yukky, Maki Hamada as Macky, Tomoo Fukatsu as Norio Katayama, Akira Matsuda as Yasuzo Oyama, Takuto Oyama as Himself, Hassei Takano as Kazuki Tsumura

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