Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Just a few days after Halloween, and who could have thought the inner ear could be so terrifying? Uzumaki by Junji Ito is a magna that I recently picked up, which describes a town whose inhabitants are becoming infected with an obsession with spirals. Although I’ve only read the first of three books in the series, the art is both beautiful and grotesque AND involves the subtle integration of the cochlea into the horrible tale. Specifically, one of the main characters is driven mad by her “contamination” with spirals and feels the desperate need to eliminate all spirals from her body. First she shaves her head, to get rid of whorls and curls in her hair. Next she notices spirals in her fingerprints so she slices off the tips of her fingers and toes, to her son’s horror. But, eventually she seems to be getting better–she’s eliminated all the spirals in her body, right? Her doctor’s anatomical chart suggests otherwise.

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She then becomes haunted by the spiral in her head…

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This internal torment continues until *GASP* the patient takes drastic steps!

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I’ll leave the patient’s, and the story’s, resolution as a surprise. I highly recommend this manga if you like psychological horror stories, you can buy it here.

I also love this manga as it uses a particularly interesting meme in suspense literature- the notion of an idea so potent it is infectious and destroys the host eventually. Two other examples of this same theme is Darron Aronofsky’s “Pi” (the protagonist discovers a pattern in pi and slowly goes mad) and Christopher Cherniak’s “The Riddle of the Universe and Its Solution” (some scientists studying consciousness begin falling into comas when they uncover the equivalent of Godel’s incompleteness theorem for the mind). And in the horror movie “Ringu” (“the Ring”), viewers of a certain video tape were damned after seeing its contents unless they show it to another person. Knowledge has the power to propagate itself, grow, and consume the “knower.” You don’t have to go far in *medical* literature to find the real-life correlates: viruses or prions, perhaps even some parasites. Many of these pathogens are able to gradually modify behavior as well as the physical body.


  1. #1 Skrud
    November 2, 2007

    I’ve never read the manga, but I watched the movie a couple of years ago and it was awesome. You should check it out. 🙂

  2. #2 phatsphere
    November 2, 2007

    yes, check out the movie – makes you seeing spirals everywhere!!

  3. #3 matt
    November 2, 2007

    You might enjoy the comp.basilisk faq.

  4. #4 HP
    November 2, 2007

    Monomania in horror fiction goes way back — Poe was a master, and may well be considered the father of this style of fiction. Berenice is a particularly gruesome story.

  5. #5 aaro
    November 4, 2007

    spirals are in everything.
    the fibonaci, the da vince code,
    fractal mandelbrot, pi, circles, triangles,,,,,
    it;s all spirit, all iz god….
    so what if it is all interconnectedly related?
    how can it be that the 22 tarot trumps
    are parallel to the 22 hebrew letters?
    the qabbalah? pi? astrology?
    pythagoreas, and albrecht durer…
    so much brilliance.
    if you like Pi
    did you see the fountain?
    visionary sci fi time travel mind twist…
    all is connected……..

  6. #6 Andre
    November 4, 2007

    Cool. Been looking for a bit of ‘different’ manga/anime
    for some time now; this ought to do 😉

  7. #7 Nathan Myers
    November 5, 2007

    Language itself is such a phenomenon. Each of us reading this is, to a large degree, a language-organism hosted in some poor schmuck of a hairless primate doomed to carry it around, engaging in profoundly unhealthy activities for its amusement, and not getting enough sleep.

    Religion, then, is a sort of phage virus that infects language-organisms. (So is blogging, maybe.) Agriculture has been particularly insidious, reducing the bulk of humanity to penury since its inception.

    All the scariest horror stories are really only descriptions of reality but with a few of the names changed. In a “robots or aliens take over the world” story, the robots/aliens map neatly to governments, corporations, or whatever soul-less automaton plagues us.

  8. #8 Brian X
    November 9, 2007

    I am into neither horror nor manga, but I loved Uzumaki. I will warn you, though, that it does get extremely grotesque, and at one point goes completely off the rails in the second volume with a story about hand drills, but it does recover after that chapter and it’s really a stunningly impressive series overall.

  9. #9 s
    December 26, 2007

    Love your blog. As someone that studies the ear, you should see the movie (if you haven’t already) about richard burton, Mountains of the Moon. That imagery was reminiscent of a scene from that movie. And it rocks.

  10. #10 qwan
    August 26, 2010

    Uzumaki has some good links to alchemy (and thus eternity and alternate realities if you think about it). The author is brilliant. He also did a more grotesque manga under the name Gyo. Brilliant work again. if you like those two you may like head, different author and not nearly as grotesque but the same sort of genre. I love these types of manga. They require deep thought and meditation for you to figure out all of the intended themes.

    The film of Uzumaki is shit in comparison to the manga. be warned.

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