The Real Monster in Junji Ito’s Uzumaki

[Spoilers for Junji Ito’s Uzumaki]

Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, on first encounter, seems like a body horror manga. It tells the story of a town seemingly cursed by the geometric form of a spiral. Inhabitants become obsessed with the shape to the point of insanity. As chapter unfolds after chapter, they find their bodies twisted and distorted into horrifying spiral shapes or spiral-derived forms. Uzumaki bewitches you. Your desire, or lack thereof, to flip the page is entirely in Ito’s control. On one hand, you are transfixed. What the fuck is going on!? What curse has befouled this town and its denizens? But on the other hand, your crawling skin says stop, you cannot bear to see the horrifying misfortunes wrought upon the characters. You are pulled between twin instincts.  Pulled until your form is twisted. Pulled until you are elongated. Pulled into a spiral.

Unlike other works of body horror, this bodily dysmorphia is not utilized to express the alienness of organic forms. Its obsession is with a shape, and what the shape can mean. It is at one level psychological. The shape itself focuses. It twists and turns into a point of focus, at once terminating at its center but continuing infinitely inwards. Its shape is itself mesmerizing.

As Uzumaki draws to its conclusion, we learn that this cursed town is built on top of a subterranean city, built of ancient spiral structures. Spirals into spirals into spirals. A dizzying infinite fractal that refuses to allow the viewer a sense of balance and control.

This geometric form has existed before you. It has existed as long as the universe. It exists because the universe does – a consequence of the rules of the cosmos. It twists you, distorts you, stretches you, not out of malice. It simply does not care for you. It mesmerizes you because you were built to be mesmerized by it. You are beholden to it.

Uzumaki isn’t really a body horror. Body horror is the symptom. Its disease is something deeper. Its roots extend deep down below. Uzumaki is a cosmic horror. The obsession with and mesmerism of mathematical forms are inevitable to being alive in this universe. To be human is to wonder about the universe, no matter how deep the terror goes. In Uzumaki, as in this universe, you are not free.