An upward spiral
Uzumaki (the Japanese word for "spiral") is an enjoyable little horror film containing a mixed bag of elements recognizable from several styles and genres. From Hitchcock's Vertigo to the Evil Dead films, and a smattering of American and Japanese horror/suspense films in-between, Uzumaki delivers plenty of chilling moments and creepy imagery, while also keeping a sense of humor. Despite the film's obvious financial limitations, director Higuchinsky gets the most out of budget visual effects and a unique editing style that makes Uzumaki an engaging watch.
Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) is a sweet-natured High School girl living in a small town in rural Japan. Since her mother's death, she has been raised by her father Yasuo (Taro Suwa), who makes a living as a potter. When walking home from school one day, Kirie sees her boyfriend's father, Kyoko (Hinako Saeki) recording a snail's shell in an alley with his video camera. She calls out to him, but he ignores her. Later, when she meets up with her childhood sweetheart Shuichi (Phi Fan), she tells him about the incident. Shuichi is not surprised, however, informing her that collecting and documenting Uzumaki (spirals) is his father's new obsession. He no longer goes to work, spending his days taping incidents of spirals about town and buying or stealing anything he can get his hands on that contains a spiral pattern. He even commissions Kirie's father to create a large plate with a spiral pattern on it. However, Kyoko's spiral-mania is not an isolated incident. Others begin to see strange occurrences of spirals about town, and to die in ways that are, quite literally, twisted. Taking the increasing sightings of spirals as a sign of impending doom, Shuichi tries to convince Kirie to leave town with him before it's too late. Meanwhile, a reporter named Ichiro (Masami Horiuchi), who was an old friend of Kyoko, comes to town following a mysterious death in order to investigate the meaning of the ominous and increasing spiral patterns.
Although there's a good deal of camp and tongue-in-cheek during some scenes, Uzumaki also has several good creep-out moments with ghostly faces and spiral patterns appearing frequently throughout the film in the background. They are usually done in a subtle manner, creeping up on the viewer almost as if they were a trick of the eyes, before fading out again. In fact, Higuchinsky's visual bag of tricks is much of what makes Uzumaki such a compelling watch, however it also benefits from a clever script and serviceable acting. Best of all, it is not fettered by the usual formulaic trappings of Japanese horror films. There's also a respectable amount of gruesome carnage for the gore hounds, although they shouldn't sit down to this film expecting buckets of it. The gore in Uzumaki is merely punctuation to highlight its moments of sublime weirdness. Although Higuchinsky's editing is a bit gimmicky at times, he still creates an ebb and flow of visual and psychological horror without sacrificing the film's pacing.
Although the central protagonists of Uzumaki are teenagers, this is not a teen horror movie in any conventional sense. It's ideas and visual structures are loftier than that, although the film does indulge in some moments of over-the-top cuteness (most of which is provided by the adorable Eriko Hatsune), it quickly reigns things in and gets down to business. Uzumaki is a fine little horror gem, full of visuals that make a lasting impression. In fact, the only individuals I would recommend against seeing Uzumaki are those who are extremely susceptible to the ill effects of vertigo.