When I was younger and video stores were still a thing, my brother and I would trade off when it came to who got first pick each time it was time to choose. I don’t remember much about my selections from those days (other than the night I took home The Big Lebowski was a big hit), but like many of my generation and older I do know that most of my selections were based on how much the film cases jumped out at me from my local Blockbuster shelves. One of the most memorable was a box featuring a young Japanese girl seated in a room bathed in sterile green lighting, her hair raised behind her in curls like writhing snakes ready to strike.
That film was of course the 2000 film Uzumaki (“Spiral”), an uneasy blend of arthouse body horror, high school drama, and unfiltered surrealism adapting manga auteur Junji Ito’s seminal comic masterpiece of the same name. I didn’t know this until later, although I’m not sure it would have made much difference to my parents, who after this drastically curtailed my video store freedom (and rightly so) following the weeks of trauma the title inflicted on my younger brother.
The film was credited to a director under the mysterious moniker of Higuchinsky, who with a little research is revealed as Ukrainian-born director Akihiro Higuchi. His IMDb page lists only two other credits as director: 2003’s Battle Royale riff Tokyo 10+01 (alas, never officially released in the US) and another Ito adaptation from the same year as Uzumaki, Nagai Yume (“Long Dream”).
In many ways, Nagai Yume feels like a warm-up for the grand weirdness of Uzumaki even though it only entered production after the latter’s success. A one-hour telefilm commissioned by the KTV network, Nagai Yume lacks its sibling’s off-the-wall maximalist visual style and mounting sense of cosmic horror. However, it works well as a Twilight Zone-inspired piece of small-scale filmmaking built around a chilling spin on an old concept: what happens when our dreams — inherently out of our control but safely sealed off from “reality” — begin to rupture their illusory bounds?
The film begins with the case of Tetsuro Mukoda, a patient under the supervision of the brilliant neurosurgeon Doctor Kuroda. Mukoda is seemingly in perfect health except for his dreams, where he lives out increasingly lengthening nightmares as if in real time — initially days and weeks at a time, then extending to years and decades. With medicine unable to offer any relief, Mukoda begins manifesting disturbing mental and physical mutations that leave him increasingly unmoored from reality.
Higuchinsky makes the most of the story’s nightmarish implications with a spare style characterized by the modern, minimalist design of the hospital setting and the pretense that we are watching many of the events unfold through cameras that have been set up to monitor Mukoda’s progression. Mandi Apple notes some visual allusions to classic German silent cinema that function particularly well under the circumstances.
Even with its short runtime, Nagai Yume ironically feels stretched beyond necessity, particularly in a subplot involving the doctor’s deceased partner. But at its best, it manages to reach the same heights of strangeness that chilled my brother and me all those years ago, and leaves one wanting more from the mysterious man behind the camera.
Where to Watch: YouTube