Uzumaki (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:John Rose
Review Date: Monday, January 17, 2011
Release Date: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Simple geometric patterns can lead to obsessions that spiral out of control and end in horror.
 
What They Say
Based on a Japanese manga, Higuchinsky's Uzumaki follows the residents of a remote town as they inexplicably become obsessed with spiral shapes. Kirie (Eriko Hatsune), a young schoolgirl, first notices this phenomena when she encounters her boyfriend's father (Ren Osugi), maniacally videotaping a snail crawling up a wall. Later, her brooding beau, Shuichi (Fhi Fan), reveals that the odd behavior goes further - his father has filled an entire room with various spiral objects. Before long, this growing madness leads to a series of gruesome and unbelievably bizarre deaths.
The Review!
Audio:
The feature only has the one audio track for the film itself and it is in Japanese but thankfully it is at least a very well constructed 5.1 track. The audio does a good job of building music through the speakers to help create suspense and there were not dropouts or distortions noticed. The dialogue and effects are nice and clear and never overrun one another and cause information-verbal or effect-to be lost.

Video:
Created in 2000 the feature is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The video presents some noise which isn’t completely covered by the grain. There is also a little dot crawl, some softness and the occasional minor print pops one sees in theatrical films. The film does present darker colors well with no blocking which is a plus given how the film loves to use a darker palate.
Packaging:
The DVD cover uses art showing a young woman sitting on a chair with her profile facing the camera as her hair has extended and is doing some curling in a very unnatural way that makes it look like it is ribbons. This is matched as the room she is sitting in is filled with items that either are or contain spirals. The room is lit with an odd green color to add an air of other worldliness  to it. The picture has a brown board that has small brown spirals carved on it and occasionally a snail is moving over the border and along other parts of the picture. The back has an indistinct picture of a large spiral that looks to be part of a relief and three stills from the feature. The DVD label uses a shot from the opening of the victim at the foot of the spiral staircase though the DVD hub replaces the victim’s head for the shot.

Menus:
The main menu has a similar boarder to that on the DVD slipcover and plays a few images from the film showing spirals or the effects of that appear in the feature. A creepy music track from the feature plays in the background of it. The language screen has a shot of a spiral in the clouds with a break in the clouds as a beam of sunlight falls onto a pond from the film. The Scene select screen just uses little shots of the scenes against a green looking background and the Extras screen uses a Spiral pattern with some ancient looking drawings beside it.

Extras:
Extras on the disc include behind the scenes extra feature (shot in 4:3), camcorder footage as would have been taken by Juichi’s father (4:3) but the big extra is an alternate language track with the director narrating the film complete with subtitles. This is a rare extra to get in R1 and a really nice extra for those who want a bit more insight into the film.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Kurozu-cho seemed an ordinary small Japanese town but sometimes the most abnormal things breed and grow in those quaint areas that none expect. From the start the audience is keyed in as the feature starts with a close up on a body that has blood sprayed around it. The camera then spins the view and pulls back as it goes up the center of a spiraling staircase and the body can be seen lying on a spiral patter on the ground at the center of the staircase that it fell from.
 
A quick transition brings us to the main character Goshima Kirie as she looks over her town. She notices that she is late and when she runs toward the gates of the temple an ill wind blows past her causing her pause. She shrugs it off as she is in a hurry to meet up with someone early in the morning. Her life isn’t all perfect as she has a stalker who won’t leave her alone and her would be boyfriend Shuichi is a bit distant but these are not new things in her life. Though the first sign of oddness sneaks into her life as she comes across Shuichi’s dad as he is mesmerized by a snail’s shell as it crawls up a wall. She dismisses this and meets up with Shuichi at their usual spot on their journey to school.
 
After school things get heavy as Goshima talks with Shuichi about school and seeing his dad. She sees the topic is upsetting to him and as she tries to pass it off as perhaps mistaken identity and misses seeing the sky as a small cloud starts taking on an ominous whorl. She is stunned when he asks her to elope with him though a little of the reason becomes apparent to her as she returns home and finds Shuichi’s dad talking with hers. Her father has just won an award for his pottery work and Shuichi’s father wants to have a special piece made for him that has a spiral pattern. The level of obsession with which he describes the pattern throws her a little off but she just writes it off.
 
While Goshima tries to keep hold of her normal life the present and growing spirals start to spread around her and draw in more people. The image in the clouds and death on the stairway from the open are things she has just not paid attention to but Shuichi attempts to tell her that he has noticed the town is haunted by spirals. As much as she tries to deny it once clued in she can no longer ignore the strange events including when a classmate comes into school and moves incredibly slow, is covered in some sort of slime and has a spiral pattern on his back. Once she becomes aware though it is like Goshima is trapped in her own pattern as events involving spirals start accelerating in number and severity around her as if she is spiraling into the center. Will Goshima be able to escape or will the smaller and smaller circular pattern draw in her and her loved ones as well?
 
Based off the manga by Junji Ito the film version of Uzumaki tries to recreate the characters and sense of horror that fans of the manga came to enjoy. The film does a good job of trying to create a mood from the dark and moody scenery to the use of music to try to help underscore the emotions on the screen. Sadly the film falls a bit flat as the manga covers a good deal more in terms of events and characters and the film version looks more like a Cliff Notes version that is trying to make sure it hits key events even if the remaining results undercut the final product.

In Summary:
Uzumaki is a title that works to try to adapt an existing story to a new format and capture the magic while making changes that the format difference requires. The film probably plays better to those who are already familiar with the source material as the movie never quite captures a sense of horror though it does capture an odd macabre feeling. Then again maybe existing fans will be even less happy at the cuts that had to be made to work the story into becoming a film than those unfamiliar worth the original work left wondering where the punch is. Much like a spiral itself the film seems to get really small at the end and lacks a powerful finale or sense of closure to send the audience out shivering into the night.
 
Features
Japanese 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Behind the Scenes, Interviews

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.



Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A+
Age Rating: 17 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Discotek
MSRP: 24.95
Running time: 90
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: