Review of Uzumaki by Junji Ito
A surreal and unnerving journey, the work that made Ito one of the most famous and quoted horror mangaka of the contemporary scene.
Uzumaki is a Japanese horror manga created by the mangaka Junji Ito between 1998 and 1999 that takes place in the fictitious town of Kurouzu, where a bizarre curse is spreading: the wind creates whirlwinds, the stems of plants twist, the smoke of cremations draws spiral patterns in the sky. Even people undergo sudden changes: their hair curls, their bodies twist on themselves, someone even undergoes abhorrent transformations; and, one after another, everyone seems to fall victim to a hysterical madness.
In a small Japanese village, Kurouzu, squeezed between the sea and the surrounding steep mountains, a series of inexplicable events begin to occur. In the first chapter, Kyrie Goshima, a high school student, and her boyfriend Suishi Saito become unwitting witnesses to the hysteria that is affecting the town.
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Among the first victims is the boy’s own father, who is obsessed with anything with spiral patterns. Ito almost seems to present us with a simple case of hysteria, but suddenly this slight madness turns into pure delirium. From then on, page after page, everything is pervaded by the spiral: from the vegetation that folds in on itself to the bodies of the inhabitants of Kurouzu.
The comic is a lengthy tale spanning 20 chapters that describe the descent into the oblivion of a small Japanese coastal town. In the course of the story, the existence of the inhabitants is disrupted by a series of increasingly disturbing events. Junji Ito, starting from a simple and almost banal concept, in this case, the hypnotic shape of the spiral, transforms it into something abject and obsessive, a vehicle for pure horror.
Reading the story leaves a claustrophobic feeling, a sense of impotence and constriction as if we were plunged into a nightmare from which we cannot awaken.
Like Tomie, Uzumaki’s narrative structure is divided into short stories that fit into a larger framework. The figure of the spiral is not accidental. Ito’s story, in fact, is an enveloping cycle of terror that, as it goes round and round, wraps itself around the protagonists, just as a spiral keeps turning on itself countless times. Because Uzumaki’s story repeats itself, it has neither a beginning nor an end, it is an endless nightmare in which Ito also drags the reader.
In the village, neither space nor time seems to exist. Junji Ito plays with this anguished sensation, impressing on the characters of the story a sense of perpetual loneliness. The citizens of Kurouzu, despite realizing there is a threat hanging over the town, do not relate to each other, do not help each other, there is no solidarity of any kind. Everyone thinks for themselves, no matter what. The same characters, especially the two protagonists, will try in vain every way to get out of this nightmare, with the only result of going around the problem without ever really solving it.
In Ito’s story, the entire city community sinks inexorably into madness. In each story, everything that happens seems to fade into collective memory: everything seems to return to the starting point. Kyrie herself, witness and narrator, is afflicted by partial amnesia and deliberately forgets everything until the situation precipitates, but keeping almost an apathetic hope. Suishi, on the other hand, is aware from the beginning of the collapse to which everyone is destined by staying in those cursed lands. The collective obsessions make the fears become reality, highlighting the almost animal inhumanity of the inhabitants of the town that slowly turn into hungry monsters.
Kurouzu brings to mind other cursed towns in literature such as
Innsmouth from H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, or Derry, the city that serves as the backdrop for many of Stephen King’s stories. Also in this case the idea of a primordial evil that cyclically manifests itself emerges.
The spiral, a golden and harmonic sequence, in which the order and balance of the cosmos are mirrored, becomes in Junji Ito perversion and decadence, a symbol of decay and chaos, thus conquering an unprecedented place in the imagination and in the literature of horror.
Uzumaki is a labyrinthine journey into the maze of the horrors that harbor the depths of the unknown, with writing and drawings that convey with great skill a very Lovecraftian sense of repulsion, anxiety, and inadequacy.
The manga can be considered as a sort of essay on the human soul: how far can a man go to save his life? What atrocities is he ready to commit?
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