Japanese manga creator Junji Ito is widely regarded as a modern master of horror. His stories of Lovecraftian cosmic horror are terrifyingly illustrated with thin black pen strokes. I spent the better part of last Thursday engrossed in his collections of short stories, head buried in my computer screen as I took in the twists and turns in the lives of his unwitting characters. The next day, I still hadn’t gotten enough of Ito’s work. So I started to read one of his most popular mangas, called “Uzumaki.” While I had gone in completely blind, I was delighted to find that the story was about something I am truly fascinated with: spirals.
I have always loved spirals. Take a look in my notebooks and you’re likely to find little spirals drawn in the margins, surrounding my words and swirling through any empty space there is on the page. They are common in nature: hurricanes, galaxies, sunflowers, shells, horns, hair follicles, ferns … the list goes on and on.
The golden spiral, a logarithmic spiral derived from the Fibonacci sequence, represents an aesthetic ideal in art and can often be seen superimposed on paintings, including Hokusai’s “Great Wave,” da Vinci’s “Vetruvian Man” and Mondrian’s “Tableau 1”. The philosophical and mathematical significance of spirals have captured the human imagination for centuries, and its association with hypnosis is deep-rooted in the public consciousness. Spirals are everywhere once you start to notice them. And that’s what makes “Uzumaki” so deeply unsettling.
The story begins in a town called Kurozu-cho, which, without giving too much of the story away, is plagued by a supernatural curse. As time goes on, things begin to, well, spiral. It is an intriguing and unnerving story that contains body horror, cosmic horror, gore and general weirdness. To me, the beauty of the manga is in its progression. What begins as individual oddness and sporadic cases soon engulfs the town into large-scale cosmic horrors.
In Japanese media, spirals are typically not representative of anything scary. In fact, they are most often placed on top of characters’ cheeks and represent cuteness or warmth. Ito turns that convention around. In an interview with 78 Magazine, Ito states that, to him, the spiral is a representation of infinity. He lists Lovecraft’s expressionism and atmosphere building as a primary influence behind the many stages of the spiral in “Uzumaki.”
“Uzumaki” is a story of cycles, flux, human connection and devotion masquerading under disconcerting and grotesque drawings. The spiral, which has captured human imagination for so long, continues to evolve in its role in fiction and art.