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
school girl named Kirie and her bookish and somewhat morbid older
boyfriend Shuichi. What’s
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
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 deca
, 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
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.