Uzumaki, by Junji Ito, is a David Lynch-inspired fever dream. Contained within the bulky manga is over 600 pages of pure terrifying weirdness that, normally, I’d be completely into. This time, however, I found myself completely shaken and disturbed by the things Ito conjures up in his tale about a small town cursed by a dark power contained within a spiral—the uzumaki. Told from the perspective of a young girl who doesn’t know when to get the hell out of town, both she and the reader will bear witness to the slow descent into madness of the town and its people. Uzumaki is scary, ugly, weird, and makes for perfect nightmare fuel.
I loved every minute of it.
The town of Kurouzu-cho is small, rural, and quiet. It’s the kind of place where the adults have lived since they were children and the teens find it boring and dull. Life progresses normally until a plague begins to infect the town. Not by a virus, but by a shape, a design. The uzumaki. Shuichi Sato’s father begins to develop an obsession with the spiral pattern, an obsession that begins to affect him physically and mentally, manifesting itself in a mad quest to collect anything and everything that carries a spiral pattern. When his wife throws out the items in an attempt to break her husband free of the hypnotic shape, he flies into a rage. A few days later, Shuichi and his mother happen across a mortifying sight in a circular wooden tub: the body of his father, twisted and contorted into a spiral.
The death of Shuichi’s father serves as portent of things to come. By the end of the book, the people of Kuriuzu-cho will succumb to the spiral’s hypnotic influence, turning humans into different forms of grotesquery, be it devilish clay pots, giant snails, or a large mass of tangled bodies, burn victims, and birthing practices. This is but a small sample of the hideousness that is Ito’s work. I don’t want to spoil any of the stories, as doing so will take the fun away from Ito’s unbridled shock value. What surprises me is the publisher’s age rating for the manga, “Older Teen.” Given the content, I would suggest that the work be placed in an adult graphic novel collection, if applicable. The content is bound to upset sensitive readers and their parents.
These days, a lot of horror relies on jump scares of mindless butchery. In my mind, real horror is psychological. It’s what we don’t see, what we don’t understand, that make stories so terrifying to me. Ever since Ju-On, Ringu, and Audition, I’ve come to believe that Japan is the premier source for shocking and mind-reeling psychological terror. Uzumaki is another byproduct in Japan’s factory of dread. There is an overabundance of weird and nightmarish visions throughout the work, a boy’s transition into a giant snail being the most prominent example. Each chapter in the book details instances in which people slowly descend into their own dark pits of hell.
The stories in the comic are scary in their own right, but it is the visuals and artwork that really make Uzumaki a thoroughly disturbing literary adventure. Some of the changes characters experience appear comical and ridiculous at first, such as a character’s hair gaining sentience, growing itself rapidly into spiraling patterns in order to feed off the attention of onlookers. But when a rival allows herself to succumb to the spiral, the hair feeds off the blood of the young girl, draining her body of fluid until she becomes a dry, lifeless husk. Ito seems to take joy in pushing the envelope with his stories, taking laughable moments and turning them violently scary.
Fans of horror and Japanese-grade weirdness are going to fall in love Uzumaki. Each story gets progressively weirder and uglier until it culminates in a strikingly surreal conclusion. The hardcover edition I review here collects all three volumes of the series and includes a lost chapter and several amusing illustrated afterwards by the author. Uzumaki is most definitely not for children, nor for the faint of heart. There are a great many things in the story that no amount of puppy and kitten pictures will help you un-see. Wholly recommended without any hesitation.
Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror
by Junji Ito
Viz Media, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen (16+)