Uzumaki - The Vortex (as Artsmagic’s video sleeve calls it) should not be confused with Rasen (also available from Artsmagic), even though both titles have been translated into English as ‘spiral’ by various sources.
The first feature from Ukrainian-born Japanese director Higuchinsky (who previously worked on the popular fantasy TV series Eko Eko Azarak) Uzumaki is a deliberately enigmatic film which bases it story around a shape - spirals - rather than characters, relationships or events. It’s very different - which is good - but not quite as outré as I was expecting. Perhaps my appetite for Japanese lunacy was spoiled by watching the utterly bonkers Wild Zero only a week or so earlier.
It’s difficult to say precisely what Uzumaki is about (except it’s about spirals). The central character is Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) whose boyfriend Shuichi (former model Fhi Fan) has an odd father, Toshio (Ren Osugi: Audition, Exte: Hair Extensions, Hypnosis, Full Metal Gokudo), first seen videotaping a snail. Shuichi’s father is obsessed with spirals and helices, collecting anything in that shape (even if it means stealing) and eating spiral food; he also commissions Kirie’s father, a potter (Taro Suwa: Another Heaven), to make him some spiral-based pottery.
Eventually Shuichi’s mother tires of all this and throws out her husband’s entire spiral collection, so he commits suicide in a spiral way - by climbing inside a top-loading washing machine!
But other weird, spiral-related things are happening at Kirie and Shuichi’s high school. A boy commits suicide by throwing himself down the well of a spiral staircase, a girl named Kyoko (Hinako Saeki: Misa the Dark Angel, Rasen) has curly hair which grows out of all proportion until she has enormous (CGI) spirals growing out of her head. And a geeky boy comes to school covered in slime, eventually mutating into a human snail.
Higuchinsky inserts spirals everywhere he can - keep an eye on the clouds and on patches of sand - but does it all actually mean anything? It seems to be symbolism for its own sake and there’s no truth revealed at the end about life or the world. There’s no doubt that Higuchinsky has a distinctive style, which he has apparently repeated with symetrical butterfly shapes in his second feature Tokyo 10+01, but weirdness for the sake of weirdness rapidly pails and he will need to concentrate more on story if he is to achieve anything other than novelty value for his films.
Nevertheless, Uzumaki is well worth seeing. It’s unique and bizarre and quite scary/gruesome in places too. Artsmagic’s disc includes 21 stills, one piece of promo artwork and trailers for this film, Evil Dead Trap and Junk. There are also bio/filmographies for the director and some of the cast from Yours Truly; if the choice of cast members featured seems odd or eclectic, please remember that I write these DVD notes before I see the film, so I have to take an educated guess (based on printed or on-line reviews, if there are any) as to which characters are the main ones.
Finally there is Uzumaki Q, a short ‘making of’ featurette incorporating a not-terribly-informative interview with Hatsune. There are some interesting behind the scenes shots and design sketches seen very, very briefly - but that’s what the ‘still’ button on your DVD remote is for.
MJS rating: B+