Sunday, March 27, 2011

Uzumaki - Why and How?

In the film, multiple characters became obsessed with spirals and it was this obsession that eventually led to their downfall. Where, though, did this pervasive obsession come from? We have some feeling that an ominous spirit has taken over the town to cause the many strange deaths and transformations among the town’s inhabitants. The reporter seems to have uncovered the historical roots of the phenomena but we never hear the explanation because he dies on his way to tell Shuishi his findings. The reporter’s research is about snakes and mirrors. He studies the symbols and tribal meanings of these two words and has seemingly come across a pattern or historical trend. He also finds a reference to the town’s lake which seems to be the final piece of the puzzle as he calls Suichi right after to tell him what he has found.

I found it frustrating that Higuchinsky did not provide viewers with the explanation behind the spiral phenomena; however, upon further thought I realized that the absence of an explanation may actually enhance the film’s eerie quality and overall value. Most horror films that I’ve seen, (given, I don’t care much for scary movies) fall apart when the explanation behind the ‘monster’ or ‘ghost’ or what have you comes out. The explanation never seems to measure up to our expectations, we find holes in its logic and generally it is not believable. Without the explanation, the story’s frightening qualities are preserved.


  1. Sarah-
    I too noticed and was a little frustrated that the film did not offer any explanation for what the uzumaki actually were or what the cause of the uzumaki obsession was. The reporter does seem to break some ground during the film and is anxious to meet Shuchi and Kirie at Dragonfly Pond to explain his findings. From his phone call and some hints at the end of the film, I think one might argue that forces at Dragonfly Pond have some connection to what is happening in the village. Rather than thinking that the director Higuchinsky sought to frustrate his viewers by not providing an explanation to the film, I think he heightens our fascination and makes the characters’ antics even more twisted and absurd. In not revealing the truth about the uzumaki, he gives no logical/scientific explanation for what’s going on. We realize that we do not know what the characters need to do in order to resolve their situation: their fate is inevitable, their fate already intertwined into a downward spiral.

    The death of the reporter I found to be almost comical, albeit a gruesome demise. Higuchinsky seems to be winking in the face at the audience with this death: the great source of all this commotion is about to be revealed, woops- the uzumaki got to the reporter first. It reminded me of all those horror/science fiction films that have that scene where all or most of the main characters congregate and learn about the “logical explanation” to what is going on in the film: it could be at a lab, a school, a church, someplace where they try to rationalize the situation and create a gameplan. The only film that comes to mind right now unfortunately is in Lifeforce, when the characters are at the local hospital/police station headquarters-thing (I forget what it is actually called.) It is in these scenes when they monitor the “dead bodies” of the vampire’s victims and discover the time span when these people will awake, their feeding time, etc. Sorry that that was long-winded, but my point is that in Uzumaki we do not get this understanding of what we are dealing with. There is no scientific dissection of the events: they are uncontrollable and even when someone discovers the slightest details- the uzumaki seeks revenge and takes the knowledgeable reporter. The Uzumaki is more powerful than any knowledge, any discovery a character might make: it wishes its mystery to be kept.

  2. In addition, I read another classmate’s post commenting that Japanese horror films where “comical” and that American films were more “horrific.” I would argue that watching only 3 Japanese horror films is not an overarching depiction of Japanese horror filmmaking as a whole. We enjoyed only a sampling of Japanese horror films in watching Kwaiden, Uzumaki, and Pulse. Truly, we find that Uzumaki is not THAT scary-( well, let’s face it I gasped and shut my eyes at some points because I’m a fraidy-cat.) However, Uzumaki does not seek to scare us, but astounds us with its artistry. I found it almost beautifully horrific. With each new uzumaki, we are continuously shocked by the new ways spirals corrupt the town’s citizens. Also, Uzumaki is based on a manga series, which quite frankly if you read up on Wikipedia about it provides a rather disturbing synopsis of the books. Let’s be thankful that this film didn’t incorporate all of the manga into its 90 minutes or else we would have all been truly traumatized (uzumaki babies, anyone?) Manga stories are noted for their over-the-top humor- Ghost in the Shell was made serious from a very comical manga. So the humor in Uzumaki is simply a transfer from the manga books- lightening the mood of an overall dark film. Film budgets have little to do with how good or how scary the movies actually are, I would argue. The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity had budgets under $50,000 and they are considered truly scary films. Therefore, the amount of money invested in a film does not make it better- it is down to plot, acting, a great storyline, a good musical score- but mostly for its ability to make us anxious.

  3. After the scene in the girls' bathroom where one of the girls describes the spiral as attention getting I saw the film as commenting on how people seek attention and that death brings the most attention a person will ever get. Every person, that I could think of, was somehow trying to gain attention. The most flagrant example was the kid who constantly tried to make our heroine his girlfriend. He "surprised" a car. There seems to be no known explanation of the spiral's hold but vanity definitely played a part in it.

  4. I agree with Sarah that the 'not knowing' in many horror films adds to the suspense and eeriness felt while watching the movie. I think this tactic worked with Uzumaki. By not knowing how or why the spirals descend on the quiet Japanese town we are left to wonder where they could strike again; plus our imaginations usually concoct theories more horrible than having them revealed to us. I also think the movie is more of a general commentary on the dangers of obsession and how it can transform us into our own monster, a selfish image of our former selves that disregards others in the pursuit of the uzumaki, (or whatever obsession has overtaken the character). I also enjoy the interplay of humor and intensity in Japanese horror films. It adds an almost creepier element to the film.

  5. In response to Kristen's comment, I too enjoyed the interplay of humor and intensity in this film. The elements of humor such as parts featuring the boy who has the crush make the plot almost more believable and more authentic. After all, most people experience some level of humor in every-day life. This element epitomized the idea that no one in the town took the danger of the Uzumaki seriously, or even really understood it. The most horrifying part of the movie for me was when the snail people were scaling the walls of the school and the onlookers called them "cute." Personally, if I saw a giant snail-person that had once been my classmate I would be terrified and fear for my life. Furthermore, it seems absolutely unbelievable that the people of the town were so nonchalant about the presence of the Uzumaki. The girl with the hair, for intance is revered for her unique style which literally has a life of its own.

  6. I agree with you, Sarah, that at times it was frustrating that we didn't know the root of the uzumaki "disease," but I perceived it as more of a commentary on the nature of obsession and even mental illness. Like you said, not knowing added much of the suspense; had we known, my perception of the film would've been entirely different. Throughout the film, all I could think about was the similarities the uzumaki and it's hold on it's victims had with mental illness patients. The way in which it was pervasive and uncontrollable reminded me of DiCaprio's character in Shutter Island. I didn't have as much of a problem 'not knowing' because I thought this to be the main takeaway - obsession can strike whomever whenever.

  7. First of all, I'd like to say that since I've seen this movie, I have noticed spirals EVERYWHERE. I went to dance rehearsal the evening after we finished this movie in class and one of the women I was working with was wearing spiral earrings. Who wears spiral earrings?! Anyway, that's just me being paranoid but truthfully, this movie did freak me out.

    I agree that at first, it was frustrating to be left hanging without an answer to the question: Why a spiral? But I eventually concluded, like some of you have touched on, that obsessions do not need explanations. People attach themselves to ideas or objects and when an obsession ensues, there never is an adequate explanation as to why.

    This explanation made sense until I thought about how it the curse of the uzumaki also took hold of Shuichi. There is never any indication that he is developing an obsession which makes me think that the uzumaki may be more than a symbol for objects or ideas that humans obsess over. It seems that the uzumaki might actually have supernatural underpinnings. Both of Shuichi's parents were taken under by the spiral, but both developed an unhealthy obsession first. Shuichi, on the other hand, falls victim at the very last moment, without warning. Sure, he has been surrounded and traumatized by its effects, but he doesn't seem to be entranced by it the way other characters do. Another example to support this notion is that the journalist who was covering the story about the death of Shuichi's father is killed in a freak car accident that bears the symbol of the uzumaki. He did not seem to have an out-of-line obsession either.

    All that being said, I ultimately believe that the uzumaki may be a symbol for many an object of obsession but also a supernatural force that has the power to destroy. I think that the ambiguities about its real meaning enhance the suspense of the movie since it mirrors the ambiguities about obsessions and the supernatural when strange things happen in the real world.