Written by: Adrienne Clark
Something is wrong in the town of Kurozu-Cho. Kire hasn’t noticed anything, but her boyfriend, Shuichi, is convinced that there is an evil in the town. It’s making him dizzy. He’s convinced; the town is infected with spirals.
Shuichi isn’t the only one who’s obsessed with spirals. His father has amassed a huge collection of spiral objects and sits and stares at them for hours. That is, until his wife throws it all away in an attempt to rid him of his obsession. Kire and Shuichi look on as Shuichi’s father screams at his mother. How could she do this? Then suddenly his mood changes. He doesn’t care about his collection because he says he can express the spiral through his body. And express it he does, by spinning his eyes separately in their sockets. Two days later, they find him dead, his body disfigured, coiled into a back-breaking spiral.
Thus begins the most quietly disturbing comic I have read to date.
Uzumaki by Junji Ito is an unexplained horror that chills even as you don’t understand it. The back cover calls it “terror in the tradition of The Ring” and yet I don’t see it as a fair comparison. I’ve never read the Koji Suzuki novel, but I have seen the films, and The Ring reads as a straightforward narrative. This story moves in, well, spirals.
This comic is all twists and turns without much narrative explanation. Uzumaki draws you in, pulling you along through unspeakable terrors, and then, just as you begin to think you understand the infection at the core of this story, Ito changes the scope. The town’s spiral infection is both mental and physical, internal and external, and seems almost personal in its manifestation. Some characters evolve physically, changing shape until their outsides reflect the spiral. Other characters devolve into madness, narcissism, and cannibalism.
The only rule, it seems, is that there are no rules.
This is Uzumaki’s greatest achievement. When a reader has no chance of understanding what’s possible then every moment is filled with terrifying potential.
And yet, the horror is balanced by the sheer beauty of the images created. Yes, they are disturbing, but you can’t look away. A woman’s hair curls and spirals upward, creating a mesmerizing and oppressive vision everywhere she goes; star-crossed lovers entwin their bodies until they are a distorted monster. These images are the driving force of Ito’s creation, and they are horror perfection.
The narrative moves along, stopping to explore smaller stories and ideas inspired by the idea of spiral infection. One of my favorites follows Kire in the hospital. While recovering from a previous horrific adventure, she uncovers a coven of pregnant women who are drinking blood, recently born babies physically infected with the spiral, and what exactly the “mushrooms” are made of in the hospital meals. I rarely express myself out loud while reading, but this sequence was an exception.
These small tales are often simple in their scope and are not always cumulative toward the larger narrative. The overall focus of the series is to watch our characters struggle as they try to escape their infected town, but many times a single issue will simply exist without any indication of how it fits in with the larger arc. These issues build a strong sense of place and verisimilitude. This world is not one of a singular horrific event, this is a world where horror is woven into every waking moment. An everyday occurrence like brushing your hair can suddenly warp into an unimaginable, life-changing situation. There is no warning and just when you think that you’re safe–well you know how it goes.
At only three books long, this beautiful manga was over too soon. But the images won’t soon leave my mind. And isn’t that the goal with horror? If you can leave the viewer with a perspective-changing image, you’ve won.
Infect your world with Uzumaki. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
Get it here.