Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) will tell you a story of how her home town fell apart. She was a high school student, and it was just another ordinary day, with her rushing to meet her boyfriend from childhood, Shuichi (Fhi Fan) at the tunnel they always met at. Suddenly, one of her classmates leapt out to surprise her, but she wasn't impressed, despite the boy's intentions to be her new boyfriend. She went on to meet Shuichi and asked him about his father (Ren Osugi), who Kirie had seen crouched over a snail, videotaping it with his camera, but the reticent Shuichi is uncomfortable talking about him. However, his father is not the only one to be acting strangely, as the couple will soon find out...
Around the late nineties there began a sudden popularity in the West for Asian horror films, and Uzumaki was one of the oddest, although it didn't make quite the same impact of Ringu and remained a cult item there. It was based on Junji Ito's manga comic book, and details a slow descent into chaos for a Japanese small town in much the same way of a Stephen King novel set there might. What the townsfolk become obsessed with are spirals, and if you weren't aware of just how many spirals there are in the world, then you will be after watching this weird horror shot in bottle green gloom.
When Kirie returns home she finds her potter father making a clay bowl for Shuichi's father, who is intently videotaping the result turning on the wheel. Kirie's mother died when she was a little girl, leading to a presumably touching flashback to that time with the young Shuichi comforting his friend, but this really hasn't much to do with the rest of the story. It becomes clear that the whole spiral thing is dangerous when Kirie and her friend are climbing the spiral staircase at school and one of their fellow students tumbles from the top railing, dying in the process.
And he is simply the first of the townsfolk to meet an unfortunate demise, although his death is possibly the most normal. The film becomes a catalogue of strangeness, all connected to spirals, with Shuichi's father collecting spiral artefacts, including a beauty shop sign (a barber's pole might have been more appropriate). After Kirie faints when she witnesses his eyes revolving in different directions, he eventually climbs into a tumble dryer and is spiralled to death, transforming into a large coil of flesh. And at the funeral, the smoke from his cremated remains creates a massive spiral in the clouds, traumatising his wife so much that she has to go into hospital.
Surprisingly, the most obvious spiral is nowhere to be seen in Uzumaki: water draining down a plughole. Especially remiss as the whole affair seems to be centered around the local lake, but wisely the real reason for the panic is never made entirely clear (something vague about a snake religion is alluded to, then forgotten). The spirals mount up, with one schoolgirl's hair undergoing the world's most dramatic perm, Shuichi's mother cutting off her fingerprints to prevent any whorling menace, and some characters actually transforming into giant snails. There is no happy ending, things just get worse and worse - although you assume Kirie got away to tell her story - and the film walks a fine line between the ridiculous and the bizarre. Some viewers won't be able to take it seriously at all. Music by Tetsuro Kashibuchi and Keiichi Suzuki.