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Uzumaki
cast: Eriko Hatsune, Fhi-fan, Hinako Saeki, Keiko Takahashi, and Ren Osugi

director: Higuchinsky

91 minutes (15) 2000
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Eastern Cult Cinema DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton
Get ready for dark fantasy with a twist... In the quiet rural town of Kurouzucho, schoolgirl Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) and her boyfriend Shuichi (Fhi-fan) are among the first to notice that certain people are behaving abnormally, and there's some kind of supernatural curse threatening to destroy their valley community. Novel and commonplace circular patterns have a newfound omnipresence and apparent malevolence as spirals come to dominate the townspeople's lives in unexpected ways.
   Everything from snail's shells, coil springs, fingerprint whorls and the number 6, to pond ripples attain a disconcerting significance. Kirie's father (Taro Suwa), a potter by trade, becomes obsessed with drawing curled up glyphs in clay while, at the school, a lovelorn boy jumps to his death down a spiral staircase. Shuichi's family is emotionally devastated when dad Toshio (Ren Osugi) commits suicide using a washing machine. Although this death occurs off-screen, and is almost laughably peculiar, there's a great deal of morbid suspense and unease generated by this wholly remarkable sequence. Later, at the crematorium, smoke emerges from the chimneystack in a corkscrew motion, and spreads the psychosis like a viral infection. TV reporter Tamura (Masami Horiuchi) uncovers the forgotten past of the town includes lore of an ancient serpent-worshipping cult, yet this potentially intriguing background to the steadily encroaching mystery is hardly explored at all, and its neglect after being introduced so late as a possible 'explanation' for the narrative events tends to weaken the overall atmosphere, retrospectively.
   But no matter, for Uzumaki provides inspired visual metaphors for addiction, obsession, paranoia and other self-destructive, singularly human impulses. In this, it's imaginative power is comparable to the work of David Lynch. Adapted from Junji Ito's manga, directed with a sharp eye for mesmerisingly surreal motifs by Akiro Higuchi (who goes by the alias of Higuchinsky), Uzumaki (trans: Vortex) is a fascinating combination of absurdist visuals, curious omens and fairy tale ambience. Amidst the tragedies we find a romantic bicycle ride through the town for our teen protagonists recalling a distinctly Spielbergian moment of whimsical escapism without leaving the ground, while veteran actress of stage and screen Keiko Takahashi is featured here as Yukie, one of several finely composed mature character vignettes in a film aimed plainly at the youth market. The film is shot with sinister and sickly green hues (the colour of fear!), dream logic rules the day here, and if you liked the bizarre effects-laden finale of Brian Yuzna's Society (Uzumaki has prosthetic appliance effects subtly enhanced by CGI) and enjoyed the more wildly imaginative (read that as determinedly inexplicable to the very end) TV episodes of The X-Files, this will prove a fascinating addition to your genre DVD collection.
   Disc extras: text biographies and filmographies, artwork and stills gallery, a batch of trailers, and behind-the-scenes footage in Uzumaki Q feature, in which the self-depreciating director wryly describes this work as a "film about spirals."
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