Short comment on Uzumaki = "plotless super-surreal bizarro weirdness". That's all you need, really. I'm not quite sure what I think about it, but I'm not sure that I'm its ideal audience. I never quite saw what was so scary about Ringu and The Blair Witch Project either. I could appreciate their many good points as movies, but they never got to me. Uzumaki I have a feeling might also fall into that category, although it's clearly more of a niche film than those other two. It's weird. No, it's very weird. I'd go so far as to call it unique. If your priority in movie-watching is to see deranged originality and things that no one's ever thought of before, then buy this film right now. You don't even need to read the rest of the review. Just get out your credit card. No connoisseur of strangeness should miss this.
Uzumaki's based on a manga by Junji Ito, who has a startling track record for inspiring film adaptations. Kakashi, Shibito no Koiwazurai, Nagai Yume, Oshikiri and the Tomie franchise are all based on his work. I haven't read the Uzumaki manga but it seems to be a freaky short horror series based on the idea of killer geometry. The spirals will eat your brain. Wow. Just when you thought you'd seen everything. I've also heard it described as an exercise in style and high concept that runs in terror from anything that might resemble character-based storytelling. If so, this film would seem to be a remarkably faithful adaptation.
On the downside it's only adapting the early chapters of the manga, since Junji Ito was still in the middle of writing and drawing it when they made this film. Why? It's only three volumes! The Japanese film and TV industry loves doing that and it regularly drives me nuts. It's easy to see the business rationale, of course. Strike while the iron's hot and people are still talking about the original manga, rather than years later once the story's over and everyone's forgotten about it. However from an artistic point of view I think it's crazy. In this particular case, I get the impression that the manga has a far better finale than the film. It sounds good. The film... well, it has something that from a certain point of view could be said to approximate to an ending, but narrative isn't the driving force here.
There are specific problems due to things going astray in the adaptation process. I must have missed the film's explanation of why people are getting buried instead of cremated. This is Japan. Putting corpses in the ground is a bad move in earthquake country. It's actually illegal there to bury the dead, although the reason for this is merely Japan's shortage of space. In the manga it seems that this is a plot point, with the town becoming afraid to use its crematorium due to the spirals in the smoke. I like that. It's a nice idea. They should have put it in the movie.
Mind you, in another way this is an astonishing adaptation. Junji Ito's original manga probably has the ultimate "could only be done in comics" concept, yet they adapted it anyway. You couldn't have done it in a pre-digital age. It looks insane in the most literal sense of the word, since its visuals have been lifted directly from the page with no concession to the fact that film is a more naturalistic medium. There's the live-action equivalent of super-deformation. (Look at those eyes! Huge eyes!) CGI mimics the effect of an artist doodling. Watch carefully. On several occasions, a small portion of the screen twists into a spiral pattern. You've got to be paying attention to spot it, but boy is it weird. I liked that. Watch out also for any numbers that might crop up, incidentally. You'll see quite a few nines and sixes, since they're vaguely spiral-like too.
Visually it's an extravaganza. Green-tinted almost to the point of monochrome, this film creates anti-reality in its backwaters mountain town. It's all about wrongness. There's not much actual gore, but an abundance of the impossible.
Just as stylised is the acting. Everyone seems wooden and vaguely creepy, while the casting is also off-beam. The lead character is potato-faced with a sullen-looking mouth, although she's prettier when she smiles. At first I thought just she was a poor actress, but then I realised that this was the film's house style. Not infrequently we'll have characters standing motionless in the background, like statues waiting for doomsday. Meanwhile her boyfriend looks more like an aunt, while one of her classmates might have walked in off the set of Little Shop of Horrors (musical version). There's hardly one naturalistic performance in the whole film. I liked all that.
This film isn't style over substance. No, the style is the substance. I'd probably enjoy it better if they ever finished the adapation and made Part Two, but you don't watch this for its story anyway. This is an entire film full of stuff that's never been committed to celluloid anywhere else in the entire history of cinema and quite possibly never will be again. I'm the kind of viewer who loathes plotless weirdness with the burning passion of a thousand suns, but this I found quite interesting. It's not even pretending to be anything it's not. This is a movie to show to anyone who doubts that the Japanese are mad. Okay, one of the many. But even by Japanese standards, at least it's a bit different about it.