Uzumaki (Japanese for “spiral“) is undoubtedly Junji Ito‘s most famous horror story, first published between 1998 and 1999 as a serial in the weekly manga magazine Big Comic Spirits. Despite its age, it has obtained a cult following and remains popular today. Uzumaki even made it into our list of top horror manga of all time!
Warning: This review contains minor spoilers.
The plot follows the tiny coastal town of Kurouzu-cho is haunted by the supernatural manifestation of a mysterious spiral pattern that keeps bending and reshaping everything that exists in nature: whirlwinds, fern plant leaves, seashells, smoke clouds… and not to mention, people’s bodies. A school girl named Kirie Goshima and her boyfriend Shuichi Saito start worrying when Shuichi’s father’s obsession for this pattern turns into madness – and quickly spreads across everyone in the town.
The story as a whole is truly one-of-a-kind, characterised by that type of lovecraftian horror that imbues many of Ito’s works – The Enigma of Amigara Fault comes to mind -, it is filled with paranoia and existential dread; with a sense of hopelessness that gets stronger as the story unfolds. There are 6 self-conclusive chapters connected by a common vertical plot: the curse of Kurouzu. The inexplicable series of phenomena linked to the spiral initially seem isolated to a few cases, involving Shuichi’s family. As the story progresses, more and more people become victims of the curse – from having their hair curl into spirals to having their entire body turn into that of a snail (whose shell is, you guessed it, spiral-shaped), even their ashes form spirals in the sky when their bodies are cremated. Curiously, the curse will affect the citizens of kurouzu differently based on their actions – but never sparing them. Those who move to slowly turn into snails, those who move to quick spiral into a whirlwind. Lovers’ tangle into one another like snakes. People who choose to find shelter at home end up becoming entangled with everyone else, those who venture outside have to endure tornados and human mayhem.
Back in 2000, Uzumaki was released as a videogame for the retro console Wonderswan in Japan. The title, Uzumaki: Denshi Kaikihen, closely follows the original story and puts the player in the shoes of Kirie. More recently, a 2020 brand new anime adaptation by Adult Swim’s Toonami was also released.