I wanted to attempt to explain the symbolism in this film and maybe it’s overall message, but then I found out it was adapted from a manga. Just kidding; don’t get allat me, because I actually enjoyed the movie. I even read a manga series once; I’ll admit I was only doing it to try to get next to someone, but it was okay.
Anyway, this movie worked as only a Japanese movie could. If someone told me there was an American movie about a small town full of people who were coming down with the snail I’d expect something campy. Our horror movies are pretty literal. But the Japanese do the monster movie a little bit differently. Godzilla, for example, was mad as hell and not going to take the nukes we sent over, so he came over and stomped on New York.
The townspeople’s metamorphoses into snails in Uzumaki is a bit like falling victim to a zombie virus and a bit like a demon possession. The story takes place in a small town where the houses still look like those in feudal samurai movies. Shuichi (Fhi Fan) is extraordinarily intelligent and plans to go to Tokyo after high school. His girlfriend Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) is an average student and, expecting to lose Shuichi to the outside world, refuses his pleas to elope to escape the town he feels is cursed. The students at the high school all seem to act like Americans who go to school to cut up and be seen and are far from our usual perception of Japanese students. Even the adults have trivial lives, like the one policeman in town who chases kids who ride two on a one seater bike.
Soon, however, Kirie witnesses a horrific suicide at school. Then she finds Shuichi’s father having killed himself in some gruesome manner involving a washer or a dryer; we are never shown exactly what happens and the casket is closed. Now it is Kirie’s turn to beg Shuichi to leave. He refuses for the sake of his mother who has been driven mad by his father’s obsession with spirals. Will it soon be too late for everyone in the town?
The movie begins with subtle images of spirals like this.
Next we see a more blatant spiral which turns out to be a sign stolen from a beauty parlor earlier in the story.
It is important to note that traditionally, a spiral which turns to the right is “good”and one that turns to the left is “evil.” To my knowledge, the beauty shop sign (second pic) is the only one in the film that goes to the right.
Finally the spirals are as prevalent as the ones on the poster. The snail symbolically refers to the town’s tendency towards stagnation, but also is a symbol of eternal life. The eternal life explanation is backed up by the fact that the ashes of anyone who is cremated, no matter whether they are townsfolk or from outside, spiral into the sky. So while some people enjoy the possession and others fear it, just as some turn slowly and others quickly and violently, also we all have different attitudes toward death or change.
This is a beautifully shot film with a green filter used throughout much of the story. I can see how it might be frightening to some, and there are about three really gnarly death scenes. But just as some people watch horror to be scared and others to banish fear, the story of Uzumaki can be interpreted in different ways. I intend to watch it again to see what else I can get out of it. If you like Kairo for the strange behavior and/or Hausu for the surrealism (and false cheer in the beginning), you will like this film.