Uzamaki (Japan 2000)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Vortex (literal translation)
Review Date: 8/12/01

Low grade Japanese horror that offers little more than a pretty lead actress and a handful of inspired visuals. For whatever reasons, the town of Kurouzu is under the curse of a vortex. Strange things are happening all over town, and the swirling image of the vortex starts to drive people mad. The story is told as a pseudo-flashback by a pretty high school girl named Kirie. Her boyfriend's father is obsessed by the vortex, and spends all of his time collecting vortex-like objects. Determined to turn his own body into a vortex, he finally commits suicide by climbing into a washing machine set on the spin cycle. In death, he seems to become even more powerful, as the smoke from his cremation swirls through the air in a vortex pattern and deliberately travels to Dragonfly Pond. His madness spreads throughout the town - his wife cuts off her finger prints because of their spiral shape, a boy commits suicide by jumping off a spiral staircase, Kirie's father starts making spiral pottery, and numerous teenage boys have turned into giant human-like snails (???). A journalist starts taking interest in the strange little town and begins digging into the history of the area. Apparently everything relates back to Dragonfly Pond, but he dies before he can share his findings with Kirie. And then the film ends in a slideshow of horrific vortex imagery. No explanation, no resolution, nothing. We're left believing that Kirie doesn't survive the ordeal, but the fact that she's telling the story implies otherwise. What gives?

The film is competently made for a B-movie production. While some of the camera work is nice, the direction is rather lacking and the characters spend too much time talking into the camera. The film is about obsession and madness as much as it is about the vortex, and the camera itself obsessively finds and lingers on the vortexes that show up in our everyday lives. Spiral shapes are found in food, water, hair, clouds, animals (snails and millipedes), architecture, etc. The film never fails to be inventive when filming vortexes, and one clever shot features Kirie's father obsessively staring down the rifled barrel of a gun right before his own self-inflicted demise. Unfortunately, the story has little to no structure and fails to offer any real thrills or chills (or satisfaction, for that matter). Watching Kirie go through her day to day routine and dream about boys is about as interesting as it gets.