Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(Japanese with English subtitles)
Directed by: Higuchinsky
Written by: Takao Nitta, Chika Yasuo & Kengo Kaji
(based on the manga UZUMAKI by Junji Ito)
Starring: Eriko Hatsune, Fhi Fan, Keiko Takahashi, Ren Osugi, Shin Eun-Kyung & Hinako Saeki
Based on Junji Ito’s manga of the same name, UZUMAKI is a Japanese horror film that proves once and for all that originality doesn’t always guarantee a good movie. It should be noted that I’ve read Ito’s manga and could be considered a tiny bit biased towards this film (though I try to take every book-to-movie adaptation on its own merits). UZUMAKI boasts a plot of Lovecraftian horror and this film never fully explores the dark corners of this creative premise. Instead this live-action adaptation focuses far more on being a horror-comedy and going beyond the point of being annoyingly over-the-top. The problems stem from humor that doesn’t necessarily work (only becoming more frustrating with each sound effect and cheesy visual) and a convoluted screenplay that neglects to explain what the hell is going on.
Kirie is a teenage girl living in a small town that hides a deadly curse. Spirals are appearing everywhere in different forms (clouds, fishcakes, pottery, etc.) and various members of the community are becoming insanely obsessed with the endless curves. These obsessions soon develop into something stranger as people become a danger to themselves and those around them. With strange suicides on the rise as well as snail-like mutations in a few citizens. Kirie and her boyfriend, Shuichi, try to cope with the strange events that are spiraling into a possibly apocalyptic scenario.
This sounds like the set-up for a potentially awesome and (pardon the pun) twisted foreign horror flick that isn’t afraid to be simultaneously creepy and crazy. However, UZUMAKI keeps its plot on a strictly surface level. The entire movie is about spirals showing up and people reacting strangely to them. There’s nothing else to this film. While one scene attempts to shed possible light on a backstory behind the madness (which might have made for a far more interesting viewing experience), it’s sadly undermined by more random bits of comic relief. The experience is further soiled by running time that moves at a snail’s pace (ironically enough, seeing as these slimy creatures serve as further underdeveloped plot point). Much like the writing itself, the characters only serve as means to an end. They are purely walking, talking tools that drive the plot forward and small attempts to flesh them out backfire horribly thanks to obvious overacting.
As annoying as the sense of humor, story, and acting eventually become, I enjoyed the first third of this movie. The director seemed to be making a conscious effort to adapt the story directly from the manga panels onto the screen (complete with camera angles and odd screen wipes). The film manages to pack into a couple of horrific images later on too. The most grisly of which involves a woman resorting to self-mutilation in order to remove pieces of her body that resemble spirals. For the record, it’s awfully difficult not to make scenes of a body twisting around itself look eerie. This all being said, not every mistake in this movie can be attributed to it not following the manga and taking things into a more comical direction. Some concepts that work well on the page don’t always translate well to the screen and that can definitely be said for the snail-mutations and possessed hair…which are just as silly as they sound. As a result, UZUMAKI feels like a live-action episode of LOONEY TUNES with a couple of disturbing scenes. The goofiness sadly outweighs the films entertainment factor.
UZUMAKI is one of the lesser Asian horror efforts that I’ve seen. The idea of an evil shape is original and evokes a certain Lovecraftian potential. Sadly, most of that potential is squandered away on over-the-top silly images, bad effects, obvious overacting, and a plot that never gets as twisted as it should have. Overall, UZUMAKI is an underwhelming adaptation that has a couple of redeeming qualities, but ultimately spirals out of control into a poorly made mess.