Tag Archives: manga

Uzumaki: Spirals and Sanity

[The following was written by both us as part of the Film Club over at the horror blog Final Girl; go check them out. Also note that spoilers are abundant, like spiral patterns in an otherwise normal room.]

Ashley:

I first saw Uzumaki several years ago when I was deep in my anime/Japanese culture phase; I watched any Japanese film I happened upon and this was one of them. My best friend and I had no clue what the movie was trying to say or do but it freaked us out and we liked that. I saw it a few more times after that, enough times for it to be nestled warmly in the back of my brain as one of my favorite strange films. Watching it again as an older, much more intelligent person than my12-year-old self I am, delightfully and frustratingly enough, left with the same questions I had then.

Uzumaki tells the tale of the small town Kurouzu, its inhabitants, and the dark infestation slowly plaguing them. The town seems off from the start; green filters give the town and its denizens an eerie, sickly look and no one really acts natural or at ease. The film sets up an odd kind of wackiness, bordering  on dark comedy.

SURPRISE! Silly, creepy stalker! Odd, weirdly funny moments like this create an unsettled atmosphere, setting the stage for the weirdness to come. And come it does. We first see signs of (more extreme) weirdness in the form of Shuichi’s, one of our main characters, father filming snails, or more specifically the spiral shapes of their shells. Shuichi confides in Kirie, our final girl, that his father has been exhibiting this kind of odd behavior for awhile and has acquired a disturbingly large collection of spiral-shaped items. After his father’s (very spirally) suicide, this vortex-sickness seeps into the rest of the town.

Something that I found myself continually struck with was the obliviousness and nonchalance exhibited by some of the characters: as the crematorium’s smoke creates an ominous black spiral in the sky that curls down into the depths of Dragonfly Pond, one girl looks on impassively, stating, “It spirals like that when they cremate someone…” During a news report on the bizarre happenings of the town, a reporter matter-of-factly comments on the suicides, deaths, and people-transforming-into-snail phenomena. Kirie herself is infuriatingly unaware of the seriousness of the situation despite the fact that she’s witnessed horror after horror. The only sane man it seems is Shuichi, who from the very start, even before the terror starts really manifesting itself, tells Kirie that he wants them to leave. But as the unease and terror mounts, as the bodies start to pile (and twist) up, no one makes the move to get the hell out until it’s way too late.

Along this same vein, the few people who do try to figure out what is going on either end up caught by the spiral and dead or their information goes nowhere. There is an awesome research-montage that gives us literally not one answer. It implies some things but leaves us no closer to any answer about what the origin of the spiral obsession is. Is it the town itself? Is it one person (perhaps Shuichi’s father?) who has contaminated the rest? How are these people turning into huge snails? What the fuck is going on? And the ending leaves us completely unsatisfied. What happened to Kirie? She has to be alive in some way; she’s telling the story, as evidenced by the opening and closing shots:

Uzumaki is a strange creature in both concept and execution. The idea of a town under some sinister influence is not new, but it’s very rare for the villain to be so abstract and have no discernible origin. In the film, there is no master spiral, no madman run amok. Just a very strange town with a very strange disease.

Andreas:

I’d only ever heard little tidbits about this film (aside from the fact that the title meant “spiral”) so I was mostly blind going in. My first impression was one of overwhelming weirdness: the opening scenes of this film take for granted that the audience will expect a Japanese horror movie to be weird. As Ashley discussed, we’re placed into a very grotesque, absurd world even before the blatant “horror” aspect of the film comes into play.

Kirie’s state of constant disorientation, Yamaguchi’s obnoxious behavior (and the confusing angles from which it’s photographed), and then the obsession consuming Shuchi’s father from the first second we see him onscreen – it all works to establish a baseline tolerance for weirdness in this movie, which makes it that much easier to make the leap over when things get really weird. In retrospect, it makes you feel like maybe something was wrong with the townspeople all along, and maybe it was only a matter of time before their little quirks spiraled into the abyss of psychosis.

Why spirals, anyway? While talking about this movie, Ashley and I mulled over comparisons from the movie The Birds to the graphic novel Black Hole. But Uzumaki (even if it doesn’t quite match those works’ terrifying heights) brings something new to the table: its “enemy,” if you can call it that, is so intangible, so omnipresent, and so inexplicable. I’ll even go out on a limb and compare it to a movie Ashley and I recently saw, Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning The White Ribbon, which is a world away from J-horror.

Yet they do have similarities: in both films, you can’t definitively trace the source of the violence. In Uzumaki, it’s never resolved what sparked the outbreak, the curious quasi-disease that afflicts the town, person by person. And in both films, the contagion is rife with potential purposes, meanings, and outcomes, all of which remain tantalizingly undetermined. In The White Ribbon, this leads to question after question. Did the same evil that affected the children lead to Nazism? Did it come from their puritanical upbringings, from the brutal authority of their fathers, or were they intrinsically cruel?

In Uzumaki, we can similarly wonder why and how this had to happen. Apparently, Junji Ito’s original manga spells out that it’s caused by a spiral shrine buried underground, but even this doesn’t really clear up what end is served by the bizarre symptoms and self-destructive actions exhibited by the townsfolk. Who does it benefit? What consciousness would have willed this plague into existence? The answers are just out of reach, and the only person who might find them dies in a car crash toward the end of the movie without tying up any of the mysteries.

But after all, it’s much more fun to observe everyone’s responses to the unthinkable catastrophe engulfing them. The film’s attitude toward its characters is well-balanced, alternating between initial sympathy for the horrors they’re experiencing, and then a more detached, humorous view as they fail to keep up with the accelerating disasters. This even devolves into open mockery as Kirie’s reactions – like clinging to Shuichi and restating her undying love – show that she’s in the wrong kind of movie. She fancies herself a romantic heroine, but in the increasingly distorted universe of body horror that is Uzumaki, there’s no place for sentiment. Only insanity, or else an absurd acceptance that death (or far worse) is right around the corner.

Another little point of comparison for Uzumaki: John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. I have yet to see Prince of Darkness, but I noticed a lot of parallels with The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness. The books of Sutter Cane and the madness/mutations they cause are much more literal, straightforward, and less interesting than the spirals of Uzumaki, but all these films share the common theme of characters encountering virulent forces which will probably destroy mankind.

The grim ending – where the maddening power of the spirals appears to be spreading and spreading – is especially interesting when you look at the middle portion of Uzumaki. Before the parade of grisly suicides, accidents, and dismemberments that precede Shuichi’s demise, the townsfolk try to cope with the onslaught as best they can. Shuichi’s spirophobic mother is hospitalized; they get over his father’s death and the ensuing spiral of ashes; and kids keep going to school despite the occasional snail-like deformity or out-of-control spiral hair.

One moral to take away from the film (other than “We’ll all turn into spirals and die someday”) is how easy it is for people to accept very sick situations if they’re imposed very gradually, just like the story of the boiling frog. Sure, they’ll note the incredibly fucked-up events surrounding them, but then they’ll go on with their lives. Shuichi twice says that he wants to leave town, but each time he and Kirie find some excuse for staying. On this level, I think, Uzumaki is not just perversely WTF, but also at times wickedly funny.

It takes the subgenre of horror movies wherein small towns are infested with some form of evil, then twists it out to the furthest possible extreme, until it has shades of cunning self-parody. For the most part, it’s a pretty flawed movie that sometimes feels like it’s only grasping for shock value, but at these moments it contains visible horror genius.

So all in all I feel like Uzumaki is a mixed bag. It’s certainly frightening – the words “washing machine” and “corpse” should be enough to confirm that – and this works effectively with its own sick brand of Japanese humor. It doesn’t hand out any satisfying answers, but still keeps you from wondering, Then what was the point? It’s a very queer bird of a movie, and more or less defines the phrase “not for all tastes,” but to the horror fan it offers a very dark vision of spirally chaos encroaching on an already weird world. And snail-people. More than enough snail-people.

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More pretty soldiers than you can shake a wand at!

Are you ready for some straight up nostalgic awesomeness?

If watching that Toonami promo took you back and made you long for your youth, we’re in the same boat. I really shouldn’t be distracting myself from the AFP tarot design but well, I just watched all of Sailor Moon R (the second season) and it’s definitely on the brain. And seeing as I have a kind of recurring theme of exploring things from my childhood, it’s kind of fucked up that I haven’t even mentioned Sailor Moon yet. Because if there is one thing that affected my life more than any other book, show, or movie it is Sailor fucking Moon.

She will fuck your shit right up.

Now for all you folks who don’t really know much about Sailor Moon I’ll do a brief summary of the show and characters. Sailor Moon is a massive cash cow anime that, while definitely not the first of it’s kind, definitely popularized the Magical Girl type series. Like lots of animes it started out as a manga by Naoko Takeuchi in 1992. It was very quickly adapted into an anime, so quickly that the show and the manga ran concurrently (indeed, the entire Doom Tree  arc in the beginning of the second season is literally filler; Takeuchi had never planned to do more with Sailor Moon after the first season and the Ann and Alan [or An and Eiru] storyline was created so she would have time to catch up).   According to Wikipedia it made it’s debut here in the states on September 11th, 1995; fourteen years ago yesterday. Serena/Usagi Tsukino is a very annoying, whiny, irresponsible flake of a fourteen-year-old girl so of course she’s our main character. She and the other senshi (at first there’s just five, Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Venus, later on there’s…many, many more) and two space cats and one rose-throwing pretty boy in a cape must fight evil forces (always in Japan of course) to save the world from being destroyed. It’s your very basic Magical Girl premise.

Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter, Sailor Venus, goddamn fucking Sailor Mini Moon, Sailor Pluto, Sailor Uranus, Sailor Neptune, that angsty bitch Saturn and Artemis. I don't know why Luna isn't there, but whatever.

However. When I was a kid, this shit was hardcore and I felt deeply connected to these characters. That’s how it always is with the things we watched as children; we can watch it now as adults and see the shaky premise, not-so-great-messages, stupid characters, ridiculously convoluted plots, badly written dialogue, we see it all and laugh at it but when we were kids this was the shit. And to Sailor Moon’s credit much of it’s fucked upness was due to fucking DIC(k) butchering the shit out of it. I mean, I’ve watched the Japanese episodes and English episodes side by side and yeah, it still has a lot of problems but at least it made a little more sense. And at least the characters didn’t use trendy lingo like ‘da bomb’. Christ, that makes me cringe. But despite all of that I loved this show; every day at 4:00 pm I would watch it and to be honest even now as an adult while I’m laughing at how ridiculous most of it is there are still moments that I find very stirring or beautiful and they take me back to a very different place and time in my life.

But so that’s the show, I’ll probably get more into other characters and situations as I go on but that’s the gist of it. One of the first things I want to discuss is something that I thought about a great deal yesterday and that was the very disturbing parallel I saw between a major plot in the Black Moon arc and another, more current phenomena, Twilight.

Now I’ve never written about Twilight before even though I have some very strong feelings about it: I hate, it sucks, it sends fucked up messages to young girls, Edward is an abusive prick, Bella is a vapid, empty, dependent little crybaby and it upsets me greatly that someone’s poorly written sex fantasy  is a best-seller and that people think that just because it is a best-seller that that means it’s a good book. But I don’t want to get too deep into that right now. Now, during the Black Moon arc there is a very memorable storyline wherein Darien/Mamoru (the rose-throwing pretty boy, Tuxedo Mask and Serena’s college-aged boyfriend/future husband/past lover from when they were living on the moon. Yeah, it makes sense in context, sort of) has a recurring nightmare and in it a foreboding voice tells him that if he continues to see Serena she’ll die and it will jeopardize the future of their entire world. Yadda, yadda, yadda. And so…rather than, you know, talking to her about it he tells her that he doesn’t love her anymore and that he wants nothing to do with her. Man, he sure knows how to look out for a girl. And throughout like 10 fucking episodes we have to watch her be upset over all of it and him treat her like garbage in an attempt to make her stopping loving him. Trust me, it’s frustrating. I get really tired of the ‘guy must protect girl by creating distance so he just treats her like shit and/or leaves her without explanation’ story; it’s really old and stale and honestly, what person would actually act like this? It’s always seemed completely unrealistic and frustrating to me. And so, I was reading some of the comments on on of the episodes (that were just rife with misspellings and random capitalization; this is youtube we’re talking about) and I was surprised at the people who were defending Darien’s actions. And then I saw that one of these users was named TwilightGirl something or another and, okay, far be it from me to make assumptions about another person that I don’t know but come on.

True love...I guess...so says the plot.

And so I spent a little while thinking about it and, yeah. Yeah, there are a lot of similarities between Serena and Darien’s relationship and those two fuckers in that series. There’s very little build-up that gives credence to their supposed very deep and eternal love (I mean, Serena and Darien have a past life on their side but still: we only see them dance a few times and kiss while in the present the only relationship they had before discovering their past was an antagonistic one at best); they’re all pretty annoying characters; both females have a horrible, stereotypical tendency to fall apart when their boyfriends dump them; and both males think that it’s okay to treat your partner badly or do fucked up shit to them ‘because they love them’ and ‘they’re doing what’s best for them’.

Needless to say I was more than a little upset by these parallels. So I thought about it for a little as I continued watching more episodes and came to some conclusions. The first was that, hey, maybe there’s some hope for these Twilight lovers! I mean, Sailor Moon would sometimes send out some very weird, not-so-great messages and this entire storyline was one of them (and what bothers me is that seeing as it was the 90s they thought, HEY, gotta have an aesop and so every episode ended with a Sailor Says. And they would always pull like, the weirdest fucking one they could; it was always something that had very little to do with the plot itself or something that was trivial next to the issue they should have talked about. And it bothers me that in not one of these episodes did we have a Sailor Says about how it’s not okay for people to treat you this way) but I didn’t take away any harmful ideas or values from it. But then again, back then when we watched the show I don’t remember any of my friends swooning over Darien. We couldn’t believe what a jerk he was and didn’t understand why he didn’t just tell Serena about the dream. But these Twilighters act like Edward is the be all end all of maleness and it’s disturbing. At least Sailor Moon acknowledges in it’s own way that what Darien is doing is fucked up.

And also, I started growing out of Sailor Moon when I was like 13; there’s a website called twilightmoms.com. I shit you not. And another thing is that, this is an isolated incident as far as I know for Sailor Moon. Because despite being a kid’s show and having some pretty vapid characters most of them did show some kind of development and Serena was a prime example of this (in the manga more than the anime and in the Japanese version WAY more than the dub but still, it’s there); over time she grew into herself and her own responsibilities. Whereas Bella is…well….we’ll just call her Mary Sue. And then of course I thought about the sheer context in which these characters exist; despite being a whiny little brat Serena is still an ass-kicking heroine who takes down monsters in a weekly formula and has saved the fucking planet like 12 times. What have you done lately, Bella?  Her whole life is Edward and nothing else matters to her and uh, sorry but that’s fucking boring. Like seriously, think about your real life. Think about your female friends who the only subject they ever talk about is their boyfriend/husband/children and nothing else because they have no life outside of that. Now think about how much you can’t stand to spend time with that person. And if you are that person think about how none of your friends like to be at your house for very long. You know who you are. So seriously. Sailor Moon>Twilight.

And so beyond all that I want to talk more about how important this show was in shaping me into the person I now am. Because seriously, this was the gateway. Sailor Moon lead me in one way or another to almost all the things that were really important to me. First of all, anyone who knows this show knows how much it would appeal to a budding queer woman. Some of my first fantasies involved the characters from Sailor Moon. And it definitely helped that the show had it’s fair share of lesbian and gay characters (that they awkwardly tried to edit out by switching genders).

Or by making them "cousins". Yeah, okay, SURE, Dic, whatever.

All these strong, ass-kicking females, all those transformation scenes (which seriously, oh my God, one of Sailor Moon’s greatest failings is that it reuses the same chunks of animation over and over and over and the transformations were like this. When I was younger I loved all of them, every thing swirling around them and turning them into their alter egos; now as an adult I usually skip right through that shit. Seriously, it takes forever) it all invariably impacted my sexuality. My earliest experiences with the internet were on Sailor Moon websites and then ultimately reading Sailor Moon fan fiction. Yes, Sailor Moon lead me to fan fiction. And then to my first hentai fiction. I remember it so well even though I was like 11 at the time (why my parents let me on the internet unsupervised is beyond me):I was on some random Sailor Moon fan fiction site and I went to click on a story. In parenthesis next to the title it said ‘lemon’. Being at the time unfamiliar with fanfic lingo I had no idea what that meant and just read on. And was met with the delights of the first sex story I ever read. Clearly, thought 11 year old me, I must find more of these stories! And I did.

Now, while these kinds of stories eventually became my first masturbation material outside of my own thoughts (which is pretty fucking important in and of itself) for a long time I would just read these stories and get really turned on by them but I wouldn’t actually get off to them. But then that changed. And I had a revelation: why, I could write my own smutty Sailor Moon stories! And my God, were they fucking dirty. Part of me wishes I could find and read some of those stories; that was before I gave a shit about plot or character or any of that. Straight up Porn Without Plot. So Sailor Moon lead me to writing my first fanfic. Which anyone who knows me will tell you that writing fanfiction (first Sailor Moon, then DragonBall Z, then and perhaps most importantly Harry Potter: I am a geek of epic proportions and you should be jealous) was a humongous part of my life. And honestly my love for writing fanfic only died out a few years ago when I finally got tired of leeching off other people’s characters and settings (and then went into a year and a half long slump). But still; I did develop a lot as a writer during my fanfic years and it’s all very important to me. And Sailor Moon started it all.

It would take a very, very long time for me to go into the intricacies of how Sailor Moon has affected my life; this is just a small taste of it. Despite it’s many downfalls, I love this show, I always will and when I make fun of it I do it with a very strong sense of affection. And if you feel the same way about Sailor Moon you should watch the Sailor Moon Abridged series.

It parodies the series and all of it’s hilarious fucked upness with great fun and affection and I’m sure most fans will appreciate it. They just recently finished up the first series (that’s 40 episodes!) and you can find them all here. So, I’m probably going to watch the next season of Sailor Moon and who knows; I barely remember the SuperS season (for good reason some would say) and never actually watched Stars (since it never aired in this country) so I might just do that.

Because the manga is prettier than the anime.

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Filed under Personal, Sexuality