review by KJ Doughton, 21 June 2002

28th Seattle International Film Festival

If Salvador Dali, George Romero, and David Lynch were car-pool buddies and their vehicle collided with a vanload of LSD, the resulting hallucinatory splatterfest would only begin to resemble Uzumaki (Spiral). The latest and greatest in a celluloid sushi smorgasbord of recent Japanese horror films, courtesy of such Nippon movie masters as Takashi Miike (Audition), Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus), and Hideo Nakata (Dark Water), Uzumaki takes such seemingly-innocuous images as a washing machine, a snail, a pottery wheel, and a cantaloupe, and injects them with the power of unpredictable dread.

Higunchinsky’s surreal, dreamlike Uzumaki introduces us to Kirie (Eriko Hatsune), a perky, precocious high school student aboard her bicycle and en route to pick up stone-faced boyfriend Shuichi (Fhi Fan). Almost immediately, the movie pushes round shapes and spiral patterns through its haze of emerald-colored illumination (not since Payback has a film been so saturated in greens and blues). We see bicycle tires and whispy clouds that funnel into hypnotic, circular forms, like algae-infested water being sucked down a slimy sink drain. 

It isn’t long before such dark visual omens take on a more destructive, grotesque form. Shuichi’s father appears to be going crazy, his eyes gyrating in their sockets like Mexican jumping beans. Eventually, the ill-fated man is taking videos of spiral snail shells, requesting spiral ceramic pottery, and demanding spiral fish cake for dinner. Shrewd Shiuchi has a hunch he knows what is ailing his old man, stating, "This town is cursed by the spiral."

Soon, people are diving into their washers to corkscrew themselves on spin cycle, and fending off ear-infesting centipedes. Students are taking hair curling to ridiculous extremes, and throwing themselves off of spiral staircases, all under the life-threatening influence of this circle-craving curse. 

Amidst its thrills and chills, Uzumaki demonstrates that Higunchinsky is no one-trick pony. There’s an innovative scene that conveys the sense of shuffling through pages of a photo album and reliving each Kodak-captured memory, which couples freeze-frame shots with a blurry transitional effect. There are also still-photo sequences that bring to mind Night of the Living Dead’s unsettling final images, with similarly chill-inducing effect. There is also humor to be found in this gloppy nightmare gallery, such as an early quote by one of Uzumaki’s overwhelmed characters. "My mind is in a whirl," he observes, unaware of how prophetic the statement really is.

Uzumaki is a return to onscreen horror that results not from hip, winking, Scream-inspired smarminess, or numbing, gory overkill, but from the eeriest imagery this side of Eraserhead. Succumb to its creepy charms, and you’ll never see inner-ear anatomy diagrams, umbrellas, or escargot in quite the same way. You might even hand over laundry chores to someone else.

Seattle International Film Festival Coverage:



Directed by:

Eriko Hatsune
Fhi Fan
Ren Osugi
Hinako Saeki
Masami Horiuchi
Taro Suwa
Eun-Kyung Shin
Sadao Abe

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not yet
been rated.






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