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DVD Review: Uzumaki(Spiral)

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Uzumaki, or spiral or whirlpool, is a Japanese horror film from director Higuchinsky. I had been wanting to view this title for awhile, and was finally able to track down a copy of it, two as a matter of fact. The other night, wanting to watch something on the bizarre side, I popped it into the player and sat down to enter another world.

Another world is what I got. The case claims that it is eerie enough to give Tim Burton nightmares. After watching it, I’m not sure I agree with that, but it does seem like something that would be right up his alley should an American remake ever take place, not that I’m asking for it.

The movie takes place in a small Japanese town where everybody knows everyone else. Suddenly strange things start to happen, everyone becomes infatuated with spirals. We follow Kirie, a young schoolgirl, as she begins to notice the strange happenings. Snails, storm clouds, fingerprints, pottery, anything that contains this pattern becomes a focal point. As the spell spreads, people start dying as a result.

It is a strange film that defies explanation. It sort of reminded me of The Cell. Not because of the subject, but because it seems to be more of an exercise in style over substance. The creepy mood slowly spreads over the viewer, and we too are drawn into the movie. It may seem like weirdness for the sake of being weird, and that may be true, but it still dragged me in.

The performances were good, primarily from the lead, Eriko Hatsune. She gives a nice balance between childlike wonder, and a maturity needee to deal with the strangeness around her. The other characters are more one note performances, although they all add to the puzzle. The father who makes pottery, the boyfriend trying to help his parents, his father who is infatuated with any spiral he finds, the schoolboy who exhibits snail like qualities, the schoolgirl who wishes to be the center of attention.

The problem with the movie, is that there is no reason given as to why everyone is so drawn to the spirals. Sure, there is mention of a curse, but nothing really follows on that point. Also when the end comes, it is left unfulfilled, no resolution is reached. Still I did enjoy the film despite the lack of explanation in the script.

The spiral effects are interesting such as the human snails climbing on the school building, one of the girls hair growing in size and creating it’s own ever changing spiral. The effects may not be up to the standard of your typical Hollywood film, but there is more believability here due to the energy in the project.

I’m not sure I really want an explanation for the phenomena, it may be more interesting to watch it again for clues that are hidden within. I remember reading about someone who heard something rather interesting in a commentary track for a Pokemon film, of all things, and no it wasn’t me! What they heard, was that they had to go back and add more animation to the film for explanation purposes, specifically for the American audience. Apparently, Japanese (and I am assuming Asian in general) audiences will accept more of what happens without explanation, where American audiences require more to be spelled out for them. After having watched this, and other Asian films, I tend to agree with that, as many things are left unexplained in these movies. So, that is something that I take into account whenever I watch a foreign film. This one being no different, the viewer has to make a choice as to whether or not they want to accept what they see onscreen with little to no reason, or if they will need that explanation to enjoy the film. Sometimes I can choose to accept, other times I cannot get involved in the film enough to do without it. This time I chose to accept it, I enjoyed the strange visuals, I enjoyed the way the people became crazed in the search for the spiral, or became agitated by its presence anywhere.

Like I mentioned earlier, it does seem more like an exercise in style, and sometimes that is what we need film to be. This film is an example of what an experience in moving images can be. We should not always be limited by the narrative, let the images speak for themselves. Style can be content, once we accept that, we open up ourselves to a new way of experiencing film. Film as art is still in it’s infancy when compared with other forms like writing and painting. The substance of this film is on the lighter side, but the way the visual pieces blend together, you can’t help but to be drawn to that center point of the spiral, therefore trapped with the characters.

Incidentally, I ended up with two copies of this film, the region 1 release from Elite Entertainment, and the region 3 from Universe Laser & Video Company. For this review I used the Elite release, and did a spot comparison with the Universe release.

Video. The video is quite good, it does tend towards the soft side, but it is much better than a lot of other Asian films I have seen. The Elite disk indicates an anamorphic transfer, while Universe states letterbox. I do not have a widescreen display to confirm if the Universe is anamorphic or not. Needless to say, the do appear to have used the same transfer as image quality appears the same on both disks. I think that the Universe is not anamorphic since it sits on a single layer disk, while Elite’s is dual layer. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Audio. Dialogue is strong throughout, no complaints from me. The Elite disk features DD 5.1 and 2.0 Japanese language tracks, and both sound good, particularly the 5.1(strange considering I was listening to it mono to begin with, I don’t have an HT, just a lowly 20″ TV). The Universe disk has 1 track, Japanese DD 2.0, and it sounds like the one on the Elite disk. Both contain English subtitles.

Extras. The Universe disk sports only the trailer. The Elite disk has the trailer, plus a 10 minute behind the scenes featurette which is primarily an interview with star Eriko Hatsune, with subtitles. It also has Mr.Saito’s camcorder footage made during his infatuation with the spiral, nice extra, but doesn’t really reveal too much. I really would have liked a commentary for this film.

Final word. This is a strange, but good film that fans of Tim Burton style pieces will probably enjoy. Elite has put together a nice disk for the movie if you can track it down.

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