Based on a manga tale by Junji Ito(author of “Tomie”), “Uzumaki” (which means spiral) is very successful in balancing weirdness with a fairly straightforward and well-paced story; whereas “Ringu” was more classically styled (with a clever hook that mandated some thinking), “Uzumaki” dips into a more baroque visual approach, exaggerating angles and perspectives like a Tex Avery cartoon, and adopting a deliberate algae-infested palette for a less complicated tale involving an isolated community slowly going cuckoo.
One of the pull-quotes on Elite's pretty DVD sleeve (which also reproduces the film's gorgeous poster art) infers Tim Burton as a visual influence – certainly the film's use of swirling geometric shapes and thin curls of root-like patterns stand out – but “Uzumaki” is also a tribute to weird Japanese shockers from previous decades, particularly “Mantango.” Made in 1963, “Mantango” (aka “Attack of the Mushroom People”) eases viewers into a bizarre world akin to a colourful children's book… and like “Uzumaki,” turns grotesque, with disturbing, menacing glee. It's the characters ‘collective grinning that's just as affecting as their physical transformations (including a crunching death by washing machine), yet the “Uzumaki” screenwriters smartly keep a steady focus on a tight friendship-romance between the two sympathetic leads.
A short featurette offers some brief behind-the-scenes moments with the jovial cast, but lacks any insight into the original Manga story, and efforts to adapt “Uzumaki” for the big screen. The dominant segments oddly favor actress Eriko Hatsume, and most of the Q&A material consist of rather frivolous questions evoking facile answers from the teenage subject. It's all meant to be lighthearted, but for Western audiences less familiar with Manga, some meaty background info would have placed the film and Manga lore in a more accessible context.
Elite's transfer, however, is flawless, boasting a pristine sharpness that ensures the design details retain their hypnotic and unnerving allure. The sound mix, with an excellent music score, is suitably aggressive during the shock spots, and the sound effects incorporates some slithering, organic designs that offer an alternate horror to an otherwise climbing stream of surreal violence.
Like the Region 2 “Ringu” and “The Ring” DVDs, Elite gives viewers the chance to watch the raw camcorder footage that charts a father's mental decline and quest to become a living spiral. Does the concluding scene offer any graphic moments of his physical transformation? If you watch it in the stillness of a late night screening, you might just find out…
Director Higuchinsky's other films include "Long Dream" / "Nagai yume" (2000) and "Tokyo 10+01" (2003).
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan