A new Japanese movie based on a comic book going by the same name. "Uzumaki" means spiral in japanese, and the movie is true to the core concept -- a quiet town is under the influence of an old snake cult curse. Strange and gruesome deaths plague the town with only the pattern of a spiral linking them all together. The movie keeps an entrancingly slow pace, as the town spirals steadily into oblivion. The movie features exquisite special effects that are used to create especially disturbing and gruesome images, which stick to your mind long after you're done watching it.

This movie may be the first movie ever that truly deserves to be defined as an anime film.

The manga Uzumaki, which the movie is based upon, was written by Ito Junji. In Japan, the story was serialized in Weekly Big Spirits, a horror comic book. In North America, it is published by Viz as a set of three graphic novels. English translation was provided by Oniki Yuji. (Please note, I write names last first here.)

The first book contains chapters 1 through 6. The second holds chapters 7 through 12. The third, chapters 13 through 19, as well as a bonus "lost" chapter. Each book opens with two or so color pages introducing the book (and also opening the first chapter of the book); each book ends with a comic afterword starring the artist himself.

Uzumaki was nominated for a 2002 Eisner Award. As far as I'm concerned, it is certainly worthy, and one of the best works of horror I've read.

I have a list of chapter names now, that I'd like to share with you all.
Book 1:

Chapter 1: The Spiral Obsession, pt. 1
Chapter 2: The Spiral Obesession, pt. 2
Chapter 3: The Scar
Chapter 4: The Firing Effect
Chapter 5: Twisted Souls
Chapter 6: Medusa

Book 2:

Chapter 7: Jack-In-The-Box
Chapter 8: The Snail
Chapter 9: The Black Lighthouse
Chapter 10: Mosquitoes
Chapter 11: The Umbilical Cord
Chapter 12: The Storm

Book 3:

Chapter 13: The House
Chapter 14: Butterflies
Chapter 15: Chaos
Chapter 16: Erosion
Chapter 17: Escape
Chapter 18: The Labyrinth
Chapter 19: Completion
Lost Chapter: Galaxies

This is Kurôzu-cho, where I grew up... I would like to share with you... the strange events that took place here.

"Uzumaki" (or "Spiral") is a three-volume horror manga (that's a Japanese comic book, for those of you who ain't hip to the lingo) by an artist named Junji Ito. It’s set in a small town called Kurôzu-cho, and our lead characters are a pretty high school girl named Kirie and her bookish and somewhat morbid older boyfriend Shuichi. What’s it about?

Bear with me here, okay?

The book is about the horror of spirals.

I know how it sounds. The spiral is a very common structure in nature. You can find spirals in seashells, animal horns, plant leaves, even on our fingertips and inside our ears. There are entire galaxies that have spiral shapes to them. The spiral has also been used as a design element and symbol since ancient times. If you're horrified by spirals, you're horrified by almost everything.

Ah, perhaps you see now.

Let’s talk a bit more about our story here. We start out in the first chapter with Kirie meeting Shuichi’s father, who is strangely obsessed with spiral shapes of all kinds. He collects spirals, sits in alleyways staring at spiral shapes on walls, and generally behaves like a man who's cracked up. His family tells him to cut it out and throws away his collection of spiral-shaped objects, so he responds by learning how to make his own spirals — by spinning his eyes in opposite directions and by somehow extending his tongue about a foot out of his mouth and coiling it up into a spiral. Kirie witnesses both of these performances and is understandably freaked out about them. He later commits suicide by climbing into a wooden tub and contorting his entire body into a spiral.

And when his body is cremated, the smoke and ashes rise in the air as a spiral, an apparent coincidence that so terrifies Shuichi’s mother that she acquires her own obsession with spirals. But instead of loving them the way her husband did, she becomes utterly horrified by all spirals, including the ones inside her own body. She cuts off all her hair to prevent it from curling, she cuts off her fingertips to get rid of her spiral fingerprints, she has visions of centipedes wrapping themselves into spirals, and when she finally realizes that the cochlea inside her ear is shaped like a spiral, she stabs herself in the ears with a pair of scissors.

After that, there are more and more incidents in which spirals lead to some sort of mind-rending horror. One of Kyrie's classmates is run over by a car and ends up wrapped around the car's front wheel -- and later briefly returns from the dead as a monstrous stitched-together jack-in-the-box. A group of pregnant women bitten by mosquitos begin using hand drills to kill people so they can drink their blood. One of Kyrie's classmates has a small crescent scar that eventually turns into a horrific spiral vortex. People start turning into huge snails, complete with colossal spiral-shaped shells. Kyrie's hair almost kills her when it begins to curl itself into spirals.

And that's before Kyrie gets a hurricane as a stalker.

Soon, Kurôzu-cho is in ruins. No one can get out of town because the highway tunnel spirals back around in a loop, and any ships in the town's harbor are wrecked by whirlpools. Mini-tornadoes are created by loud shouts or fast movements. Food is so scarce, people resort to eating snail-people. People crammed into the run-down row houses begin spiraling their limbs together. Desperate to escape the town's madness, Kyrie, Shuichi, a visiting reporter named Chie, and Kyrie's brother, Mitsuo -- who is beginning his own transformation into a snail -- flee into the woods, hoping they can somehow find a way to safety.

But none of them can escape what lies waiting for them underneath the city.

There's an amazing amount of oomph in establishing the horrific power of spirals and then demonstrating just how common that one thing is in our world. Sure, you can see them in eddys in streams, in curled ferns, in snail shells -- but you also see them in tornados, in hurricanes, in whirlpools. And it doesn't take long at all before you start seeing spirals everywhere in the story, and they get more and more ominous with every chapter. And since spirals really are common in real life, there's a pretty good chance you're going to run across a spiral somewhere while you're reading this -- and it's going to make you worry for at least a while.

"Uzumaki" isn't perfect, of course — the chapter with the spiral hair is a bit underwhelming until the end, and as the town starts to decay after the typhoon, the story hits a lull for several chapters — but on the whole, it’s really intensely freaky stuff.

Junji Ito’s artwork is absolutely nightmarish, in all the good ways you want from a horror comic — every gory, bizarre, terrifying moment is there in all the gruesome detail you could dream of. From the surreality of bodies and limbs twisting together in ways that should be impossible to the exquisite gore of an eyeball rolling down a spiral track in a skull or a rotting corpse lurching out of its own coffin, from inhuman monsters like the stinger-tongued mosquito woman and the spike-covered creature in the row house to the cosmic horror of the world spinning into unexplainable insanity, all because of a simple geometric figure -- it's all sitting there on the printed page, ready and willing to thrill you, terrify you, delight you.

"Uzumaki" was adapted into a feature film in Japan in 2001, directed by Higuchinsky. It was a fairly loose adaptation -- some parts of the story from the manga made it into the film, and others didn't. The ending was also different, because at the time it was made, the manga hadn't yet been completed.

So the curse was over the same moment it began, the endless frozen moment I spent in Shuichi's arms.

And it will be the same moment when it ends again... when the next Kurôzu-cho is built amidst the ruins of the old one.

When the eternal spiral awakes once more.


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