This is it, the big one, the one Ito to rule them all. Other megafans might argue Tomie should take the place as the top of Ito’s oeuvre (or Shoichi, bleh) but Uzumaki is the only one I’m sure to read every single year. It takes a simple but bizarre premise, “a town cursed by spirals,” and makes it… work. Not just work, it makes it excel. Cursed by spirals makes zero sense, until you see how Ito takes that, begins with a simple personal story, and expands on it over and over until ending in a Lovecraftian finish.
Let’s think about spirals: they’re everywhere in nature. Spirals naturally form in liquid bodies, such as water and air. Little whirlpools in drainage channels and dirt devils seem to appear within the town of Kurouzu-Cho more frequently than other places in Japan. It is this revelation by the boyfriend of our protagonist Kirie which begins the trouble. Her boyfriend’s father has become obsessed, making whirlpools in his soup and bath before enjoying either, collecting all forms of spirals such as fiddlehead ferns and snail shells, and even commissioning spiral art from Kirie’s father, a potter. The problem occurs when his obsession drives him to contort his body, lethally, into a spiral of his own.
It doesn’t stop there, only begins. The ashes from his cremation form a spiral and are sucked downwards into Dragonfly Pond, which sits at the very center of the town. Hmm, a vortex sitting at the center of a town that’s cursed by the shape of vortexes, how could this possibly go wrong?
Where this story shines is taking the natural occurrences of spirals in nature and turning them into profane, incredible body horror. There are spirals in your ears, the cochlea. Dead centipedes twist themselves into spirals. Mosquito needles form a spiral shape, and in the most horrifying story in the collection, pregnant women feed as mosquitos using handbrace drills. Eventually, the spiral influences the entire town, consuming it and its people within the curse. I’m comfortable giving you that detail because I do not see a way in which you could actually predict the progression, so it’s only a small spoiler. The story is just too unique, too well realized, and too bizarre. It defies prediction.
This is not a happy story. It is grim, depressing, terrifying, and the art is as horrifying as any I’ve ever put in my eyes. But it is such an incredible story, so well made and so delightfully unexpected in spite of the horror that I truly can’t recommend it enough.
I recommend this book so completely that if you live in the Seattle area you are in active danger right now of me pressing my copy into your hands. Don’t fight it, my friend, it is the Art of the Spiral…