The 13th Floor

One Twisted Japanese Movie: A Look Back at UZUMAKI aka SPIRAL

In 2000, Ukrainian-born Japanese director Andrey Higuchinsky created what was quite possibly one of the strangest horror films of its time. UZUMAKI (or SPIRAL) is the story of  Kirie, a high school student whose boyfriend’s father has become obsessed with spirals. His fixation leads him to place himself in a washing machine in order to turn himself into a spiral (or uzumaki). Soon the entire town acquires his obsession with spirals, and many seem to be slowly turning into snails. Eventually, the obsession turns deadly as people begin killing themselves in various spiral fashions. Not yet convinced that this is one weird and twisted horror movie? Just check out the trailer below.

The peculiar film is based off a manga series of the same name that ran from 1998 to 1999. Like the film, the manga follows two teenagers who discover that their town is cursed by a supernatural force causing an unhealthy fascination with spiral patterns.

 

The author’s original objective for the series was to examine what psychological and physical changes could happen to people who live their entire lives in Japanese row houses. Author Junji Ito pulled inspiration noting that a spiral row house could allow for more inhabitants in a smaller area. As the series developed, it sought to unravel the mystery of the spiral against a dark Lovecraftian backdrop.

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What makes UZUMAKI the film so strangely enchanting are its rich visual elements. The film’s utilization of green lighting is a direct mimic of the color palette used in the manga series. Director Higuchinsky applies a slow (yet gore-filled) pace that he has acknowledged is pulled from French New Wave directors like Godard or Truffaut. This tactic works very well considering that the snail plays a pivotal role in the film.

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Additionally spiral patterns  and textures work their way into every scene, even some that are hard to notice at first glance. As you eyes dart around the screen attempting to understand the absurdist storytelling, your vision will often lock on a simple spiral texture in the distant sky or in a background carpet pattern. It is a meticulous and dizzying effect that makes the film incredibly fun and distinct. It’s almost mind-boggling that Higuchinky has only directed one film since UZUMAKI, 2003’s TOKYO 10+01.

Where to find it: UZUMAKI is currently out on Region 1 (USA) DVD and can be picked up off Amazon for about $10. Sadly this one is not available for VOD or streaming on any of the major platforms, so it is time to dust off the old movie machine and get weird.

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