If you’ve been digging around horror literature lately, the name Junji Ito might sound familiar to you. He’s a Japanese author and illustrator who’s been creating manga since the 1980’s with works dealing with Body Horror, Insanity, The Breakdown of Society and living with his wife and two cats which have being growing increasingly popular in the Horror and Manga community. If his work doesn’t seem to familiar, his illustrations definitely will catch your attention when you see them.
Given the increasingly popularity of his work, it comes as no surprise that he would receive some adaptations over the years in many Films and several Anime shows over the years. While his work “Tomie” has received most of the films that have been made so far, one of the recently announced was an anime for one of his more popular works: “Uzumaki”. The story of a town’s obsession with Spirals will be receiving an anime that will be airing next year and while it has drawn much attention to the story, many don’t know that this story was adapted already in a live action movie back in 2000. Given that it was released only in San Francisco and Japan, it didn’t get much attention in the States and was pretty much forgotten by audiences everywhere. Given the rise of interest of his work, and the announcement of the anime for this story, it seems only natural to take a look and see how Junji’s work would translate into a live action film.
Synopsis: The story tells of high school student Kirie Goshima as she lives in the small sea-side town of Kurouzu-cho with her single father and her frequently visiting boyfriend Shuichi Saito. In recent events within the small town, many of the town’s residents have become obsessed with Spirals and soon become victims of strange incidents that soon affect the entire town.
One issue that’s going to be obvious, especially if you’ve read the manga, is the plot. Being heavily inspired by Lovecraft, the story dives into the characters going mad after their obsession with spirals as well as having their bodies being transformed into many different forms with it eventually everyone in town succumbing to them. The movie, however, doesn’t really dive into it very well if at all. It’s briefly touched upon with only Shuichi’s family and is never talked about from anyone else and it feels like a series of strange events that aren’t connected in any way. Aside from that, the manga went for an anthology style where all of the events were connected not only through the characters and the spirals that lead to one connecting to one big finale for the fate of the town while the film decided to chop some early parts of the story and put the characters together to make it seem like they all were happening at the same time which didn’t end up working for it.
With that being said, another issue with the film was the lack of characters from the story. While it does stay faithful to Kirie and Shuichi being the main focus, the side characters are some of the more interesting parts in which they experience the dreadful acts that befall the town and drive it to its end and they only chose to go with a small handful of them. The few they selected were the more, and I use this term loosely, grounded in reality and that can be handled when they threw them all in at the same time which makes the plot feel full but they never used their events until near the end of the movie and weren’t shown in much detail. Not to mention the fact the story left out a lot of characters that had the more interesting side plots to the story that would be amazing to see done in the film, but that could be because the manga wasn’t finished when they were making this film. Regardless of that little bit, it is pretty disappointing for how they were used in the film.
Given Junji’s unique illustrations for his work, it’s pretty obvious that seeing how it will look in live action would be one of the drawing points for the audience. The style is a stark contrast to a lot of different illustrations used in Horror literature that is easily recognizable and is a quick turning point for newcomers.
After finding out that the film was pretty low budget and obviously that live action would be much harder than animation to try and emulate his work, it doesn’t come as a surprise that there’s not much of it to be seen. The film does several different takes using CGI and practical effects for some memorable scenes from the beginning of the manga that were used in the film that do look pretty impressive for the budget, but the majority of it uses camera tricks instead with different reaction shots instead while playing with some minor CGI done with some of the actors eyes. Despite what little they went with, it wasn’t terrible but it was disappointing with what little was used.
Final Thoughts: This was pretty disappointing. Given that this doesn’t hold up as well as the original manga does and how much potential was wasted for it, it’s pretty obvious why this was forgotten about over time. The film had a very moments that were pretty good, but the rest of it fell flat to me. After viewing it, it’ll be fairly obvious why animation would be the better route when choosing to adapt Junji Ito’s work (which makes me more interested in the anime when it comes out).