I hate Junji Ito’s horror manga. I say this not because his manga is bad but because it is bloody good and thus, bloody terrifying. His work has inspired such cosmic dread in me that whole summer days have been ruined and I have been left a shuddering wreck trying to convince myself that his horror can’t happen to me. Thankfully films based on his work are much more fun.
Everything starts with a girl named Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) staring at her town of Kurouzu from a nearby hillside. Something strange happened there. Cut to a few days earlier and Kirie is running through town on her way to meet her boyfriend Shuichi (Fhi Fan). She encounters Shuichi’s father Toshio (Ren Osugi) who is absorbed in filming a snail shell’s spiral. After meeting Shuichi she hears how bad Toshio’s obsession with spirals is. Shuichi has a bad feeling about the town which he believes is cursed by the shape of a spiral, something which becomes increasingly obvious as more and more people around town succumb to strange deaths involving spirals. It isn’t until Toshio dies that Kirie and Shuichi are spurred into action. With the help of Ichiro, a local journalist, they search the town history and find dark secrets linked to ancient mirrors retrieved from the nearby Dragonfly pond and a cult obsessed with spirals.
Do you know where spirals are? Everywhere! Lollipops, cakes, snails. Just look at your fingerprints, hair. Try your ears. Even the insides of your ears have spirals… Imagine having spirophobia and want to destroy spirals or being so obsessed with spirals that you allow them to take over your whole life. The potential physical and psychological destruction is huge and amusingly demonstrated in this film.
Written by Junji Ito and directed by Ukranian-born director Higuchinski this film revels in being surreal, crazy, unnerving and just plain weird. An atmospheric visual and special effects delight that sucks the audience in, it follows the manga’s horror and uses various special effects open to the medium of film to create mind-bending terror in this amusing and twisted traipse through the most messed up town in Japan.
Everything about this film is off-kilter. The music at the beginning is a quaint fairy-tale tone that doesn’t match the atmosphere of the town. Kurouzu is drab and damp, shot with a green hue, the town screams tradition and erosion with its old winding streets and moss-covered jizo statues. The soundtrack is full of strange sounds and howling wind and when the air raid siren sounded I was even more on edge. This place must be twinned with Silent Hill
Nobody in this place seems right. Toshio is the most openly affected but the population’s inability to do anything but gawp at strange events and even revel in them is disturbing. Also strange is the boundless cheer of the heroine, evident even when the whole place is descending into a chaotic mess.
The scares are gradual, even playful at first but the atmosphere slowly builds thanks to the films episodic structure which allows for vignettes that become progressively weirder in a Lovecraftian fashion. The horror that exists is the horror of incomprehension and bodily dissolution but delivered with gales of laughter and great special effects and make-up from Issei Oda. The film’s story is held together with a Ringu-like investigation, sure to deliver a logical answer to everything, but since that gets derailed because of a goof, it must surely be proof enough that Junji Ito and Higuchinski consider this all a joke. Want more evidence? The wanted poster with Junji Ito on it on the side of a koban (police box).
The director keeps with the spiral theme of the film, realising that the spiral-pattern draws the eye, so there is a focus on spiral shapes for form cuts, spiral dissolves, and close-ups on mouths and ears. Higuchinski also has the skill to ratchet up atmosphere with more conventional things like long takes and tight framing, canted shots and patiently allowing characters to explore the twisted landscape, the camera receding or staying motionless and using sound to build up tension.
The acting in the film fits perfectly. Characters feel like they have 2D the emotions of a manga and are resigned to events. It could be misconstrued as bad acting especially in the case of Fhi Fan with his irritating monotone voice and emotionless performance that reminds one of a petrified forest but in the context of the film and its atmosphere it works. How Kirie ended up with him can only be explained by her own inherent strangeness which is actually endearing when delivered by Eriko Hatsune and you hope this heroine will get out alive. Wearing red a lot, she is the most vibrant thing on screen. The rest of the cast also deliver with Ren Osugi marvellous as Toshio, his strangeness being all-too believable and disturbing.
An enjoyable ride through an unconventional apocalypse.
Release Date: February 11th, 2000 (Japan)
Running time: 100 mins.
Writer: Takao Nitta (Screenplay), Junji Ito (Original Manga),
Starring: Eriko Hatsune, Fhi Fan, Hinako Saeki, Eun-Kyung Shin, Keiko Takahashi, Ren Osugi, Denden