The Compleat Ingmar #20: The Silence (1963)

I was not prepared for the extent to which Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre would embrace the uncanny. He may not be a David Lynch, but where Lynch’s nightmares are often emphatically surreal, Bergman’s use of the dreamlike is more subtle, more psychological, and probably more Freudian – though not in the overly literal way that pop-Freudians tends to go for. Unless we’re talking about Hour of the Wolf, which indeed feels like proto-Lynch in its final third, Bergman’s onereic sequences – when they are not explicitly dreams, as for instance in Wild Strawberries – always leave it up to the viewer whether what they are seeing is really happening or not, and to what extent it is filtered through, or even distorted by, a character whose perception is less than reliable.

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Spiraling down towards madness

I don’t really know much manga. Yes, I’ve read Akira, and I quite enjoyed Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, but other than that I simply haven’t read much. In addition, other than the original Dark Water I’m pretty ignorant about Japanese horror (other than having read reviews, and reviews of the American remakes – I don’t know anything, basically, I just meta-know!).

When I read about Junji Ito, though, I was intrigued. I don’t know what it was – the chills that his works evoked among the people who had read him, the single panel someone had posted? Perhaps it was just that I had time on my hands.

So I checked out Uzumaki. And I’m glad I did. But yes, some of it will haunt me.

Differently from the Western horror I’ve watched or read, Uzumaki doesn’t go for full-on naturalism that is then invaded by some uncanny creature of the beyond. From the first, there’s something weird and uncanny about his stories. Is it that the people who become obsessed with spirals in the story are going mad, or is there something more to it? There is something obsessive in the storytelling itself, as each chapter takes us further down the spiral.

There are bits that are gruesome and gory (in moderation), but those aren’t really what had most of an effect on me. It’s the surreal that somehow becomes frighteningly compelling as it invades every aspect of the manga – there are overtones of Kafka, as people turn into giant snails, but there’s also something creepily funny about some of the chapters. It’s unsettling, to say the least.

So, if you’ve got time on your hands, you may want to check out Uzumaki. Beware, though – it is addictive, it is unsettling, and it may just burrow into your mind and leave little, spirally holes, as if someone had taken a corkscrew to your frontal lobes.

I made that last bit up...

Or did I?