The Daily Stream: The Live-Action Uzumaki Is Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen

The movie: "Uzumaki"

Where you can stream it: Prime Video

The pitch: Imagine if there was something like a deadly virus that made people become obsessed with spirals, to the point that they will do anything to either become part of a spiral or get as far removed from them as possible. "Uzumaki" is the directorial debut of Ukrainian-born director Higuchinsky, based on the acclaimed manga by master of horror Junji Ito, and it is a film unlike any other. It's low-budget, it's grainy, and it's absolutely bizarre, but it's also a fascinating take on the work of one of the greatest visual minds in all of horror. 

"Uzumaki," which translates to "spiral," follows Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) and Shuichi (Fhi Fan), a pair of teens in a small town in Japan who start noticing strange happenings around them. Shuichi's father, Toshio (Ren Ôsugi) becomes obsessed with snails and anything that looks like the spirals on their shells, while his mother Yukie (Keiko Takahashi) becomes terrified by the simple shape and will do anything she can to get away from it. Before long, the spiral has taken lives, and Kirie and Shuichi must try to pick up the pieces and solve the mystery before it's too late and everything in their town becomes a part of the giant spiral in the sky.

Why it's essential viewing

Japanese cinema, especially Japanese horror, is well known for being more experimental and willing to get weird than horror from many other countries. There's a strange flavor to Japanese horror that dives into the totally surreal with abandon without worrying about whether or not the audience will suspend their disbelief. "Uzumaki" is beyond bizarre, with images that defy the laws of logic and physics, but it all makes sense within the film's twisted world. Instead of spending time trying to set up a backstory or introduce the characters at length, "Uzumaki" just drops the audience right in at the beginning of the cosmic spiral epidemic that plagues the town. Before we get much of a chance to know Kirie or Shuichi, there are loads of spirals already showing up. You could honestly watch this movie a dozen times and find new hidden spirals every time because the visual nature of the story from Ito's manga is a big part of what Higuchinsky is trying to highlight. 

The spiral itself is some kind of supernatural phenomenon, and while it seems kind of silly, it actually manages to be horrifying. People's need to either be part of the spiral or escape it lead them to some pretty disturbing extremes, like crawling into a running clothes dryer or cutting off their fingertips because of the swirls on their fingerprints. Everything about "Uzumaki" is taken to the extreme, and it's full of some incredible sight gags and some legitimately shocking moments.

A fun introduction to the weird world of Junji Ito

Manga writer and artist Junji Ito is a truly twisted creative mind who has left an indelible mark on the world of horror, but the adaptations of his work haven't always been that stellar. There are a handful of films about his demonic high school character Tomie and a couple of animated attempts at bringing the manga pages to life, but they're all pretty flawed. Ito's work is extremely difficult to translate to other mediums because it is so unique, and even "Uzumaki" occasionally suffers from great ideas and troubled execution. Of all the Ito adaptations out so far, however, "Uzumaki" is probably the easiest to jump into without additional context, and it gives people a great idea of what to expect from his spooky stories. 

There are two animated Ito adaptations currently in the works, and they both look like they have the potential to be really good. There's an Adult Swim "Uzumaki" series that was originally due out in October 2022 but now has an unspecified future release date, as well as a Netflix animated anthology series called "Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre" that will feature many of his most famous stories and characters brought to life in anime form. If either of those piques your interest but you need to see more first, then the live-action "Uzumaki" is where it's at.