Uzumaki, Vol. 1
Script and art by Junji Ito
Published by Viz; $15.95 US
While my reading habits have begun to reach beyond the scope of superheroes, my sleeping schedule is still a lot like Batman’s. I go to school in the day and work all night, and my night job usually presents the only opportunity for funnybook reading. I’m alone when I work, in a building filled with electronic devices, most of whose functions and names I couldn’t tell you. When you’re up all night, the last thing you want to hear is a noise you don’t recognize. My job necessitates I’m surrounded by such noises the whole time, and every anonymous click and beep used to mean the boogeyman. As time passed and the electronic chorus became more familiar, it faded into the background and the only thing that scared me was whether or not my boss would find out I spilled Diet Pepsi all over my keyboard.
Then I read Uzumaki, Vol. 1 by Junji Ito, and for a few nights I went back to square one.
Set in the small coastal town Kurozu-cho, Uzumaki unveils a curse on the town seen through the eyes of a young teenage girl. Kirie Goshima first stumbles upon the curse when, on the way to school, she spots her boyfriend’s father kneeling in an alleyway and staring at an empty snail shell. When she tells her boyfriend Shuichi about it, he’s unsurprised. He tells Kirie about his father’s growing obsession with spirals, and eventually this obsession threatens to destroy himself and his family. Chapter-by-chapter Uzumaki shows the spread of the curse from person-to-person. Usually, it begins with obsession and ends with the threat of self-destruction.
The beast of Uzumaki, Vol. 1 spreads like a chaotic infection, and the stunning visuals of the curse’s results chill your bones and yank at your gut. It isn’t gory in any sense, but the mutations that this spiral-minded curse creates will creep you out more than the food coloring and ground beef of your average slasher flick.
Uzumaki is a grotesque study of the shape of the spiral, and the paths of the characters almost always mimic the shape. As soon as a character finds him/herself in the curse, a downward spiral is exactly what the fates have in store. The curse sneaks into character’s soul through any personal vulnerability whether it’s ego, fear, or even love, and renders each individual chapter something of a cautionary tale on each. One exception may be the fifth chapter (and my favorite), "Twisted Souls", which suggests that the curse may have brought about a kind of dark liberation to some of its victims.
My only complaint is the portrayal of Kirie. Her boyfriend Shuichi is the only recurring character who seems to have any idea about what’s going on in the town, and in spite of how many times Kirie comes face-to-face with the clearly supernatural results of the curse, she repeatedly acts confused when her boyfriend speaks of it. Her confusion isn’t presented like your run-of-the-mill Scully case of denial in the face of the unknown either. She just seems to not understand, after seeing a man impossibly packed into a round tub like one long sausage link, the idea that maybe something strange is going on. It isn’t until the final chapter "Medusa", when Kirie is afflicted with the curse herself, that she acknowledges it.
Though this is only the first volume, and I’d hope to see a bit more weight lent to the character in the rest of the story, as well a broadening of the scope. The first volume deals mainly with case-by-case "infections," leaving you hoping for a larger explanation of exactly what the hell’s going on in Kurozu-cho.
Creepy and visually both impressive and deeply disturbing, Uzumaki, Vol. 1 is a good, scary, Lovecraftian story. If you like manga and horror, it’s essential. If you like spirals, stop. For your own good.