It's the third of Ataru Oikawa's three Tomie films and the seventh in the series. I'm grateful for his efforts and it would be ridiculous to say that he's without talent, but I'm developing a low opinion of his storytelling.
Oikawa's three Tomie films are the original in 1999
and the two short, straight-to-video ones from 2005, Beginning
and Revenge. (They were released almost simultaneously, within only a week of each other.) Of those three, Beginning
's the only one he didn't write. That's his good one. Revenge and the 1999 Tomie are both incoherent, over-reliant on exposition and creating a narrative that's actively fighting against comprehension. As it happens I'm obscurely fond of both, but that's an unpopular opinion and one I wouldn't recommend forcing on strangers.
Firstly, the 1999 Tomie had that detective turning up to deliver a ton of exposition, but otherwise the guy did bugger all. Guess what! Oikawa's done it again! This time he gives us two Men In Black from some Japanese government department that normally handles terrorist threats and has a file on Tomie going back to the Meiji era. Furthermore they're about to tell us about her in magnificent and surprising detail. It's as if they're quoting the writer's bible, although I was surprised to be told that a duplicated Tomie will apparently be a mortal enemy of the original. That's not the impression I'd had. I'd always assumed that multiple Tomies got on rather well, with the only possible exception being a scene in one film where two Tomies were each asking the same boy to kill the other. There are two reasons why I hadn't taken those requests literally. Firstly, for Tomie that's practically "good morning". Secondly, the actress's line delivery made it sound as if the two of them had merely found a new way to tease their latest victim.
Mind you, the next film in the series is Tomie vs Tomie
, so I'd better not get too dogmatic. Anyway, our Mulder and Scully think she's a threat on a national level, if not a danger to the entire world, and so they need to interview one of Hisako Shirata's patients for the sake of the safety of mankind. What do you say, doctor? It's just a few questions.
No. Ah well. Guess the world will just be destroyed then. The Men in Black duly drop out of the plot as suddenly as they'd arrived.
However even apart from those two, the narrative managed to be even more fragmented than that of the 1999 film. The film begins with a naked woman jumping out in front of Shirata's car. (Don't your hopes up. We never see anything.) Shirata manages to avoid turning her car into spaghetti, but then upon getting out finds herself face-to-face with the mysteriously still-living girl. This moment has the film's worst acting. Five minutes later, she'd found her way to a house in the woods and I was seeing parallels with both The Blair Witch Project and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I'll say one thing for this film, it made me jump more than any other Tomie film to date. That's not to say that it's terrifying, but Oikawa has a few "boo" moments and the people in that house have bad things wrong with them.
After that, the film's taking place in two timezones. We've got the "One Year Later" story, in which Shirata is a doctor at a medical facility, with one of her patients being someone they found in that house. This patient is played by Minami Hinase, better known in Japan just as Minami, and her first film role was in Battle Royale. She's also got a fascinating face, with a huge mouth that can either make her look beautiful and charming, predatory or almost alien.
However there's also the "What Really Happened Back Then?" story, which unfolds partly through first-person video camera footage taken by people hiking through the woods (Blair Witch!). Are we being asked to believe that Shirata took home that camera and yet had never until now watched the tape inside it? Well, on second thoughts, we don't know she hadn't.
In many ways, the story's quite good. The characters are likeable enough and there's something quite strong about slowly uncovering the truth. At times it's also more horrific than some Tomie films. There are people up in the woods and there's something really wrong with them. However there's a surprising lack of Tomie herself. We hear about her. We get that lecture from the Men in Black. There are men who are obsessed with her. However it seemed odd to me throughout that she could have been happy with an Alabama Mountain Man existence in these Japanese backwoods, when she could have been heading off in search of men to mesmerise and destroy. Admittedly she's capable of a quieter life when it's just her, a rare female friend and some lesbian undertones, but I had a feeling that there was something here I was missing. Maybe if I kept watching, it might all become clear?
It didn't. Well, not almost until the end. Oikawa kept me confused about basic stuff like "is this really Tomie?" He draws our attention to the mole under Tomie's eye, then makes it so small that you practically have to pause the video to double-check... and now I'm not sure he wasn't cheating anyway.
However the film's last line is a game-changer. I can think of at least two ways to take it, each of which is problematic. One interpretation fits much better with the casting and makes me wish we'd seen far more of this possible Tomie, whom I think could have been amazing, but it has odd implications about Tomie's glamour superpowers. The other interpretation is the one that I'd tentatively been working with until that point, but the performances didn't fit the theory for me and I'd always had a niggling feeling that something didn't feel right. I'm sure I could settle this conclusively by looking at the film's closing credits to see who Oikawa thinks was playing who, but I suspect I'd be disappointed and I think the film's stronger with these multiple interpretations. You can similarly kill a lot of the (excellent) ambiguity in Forbidden Fruit
by paying attention to people's surnames, by the way.
Do I like this film? Perhaps surprisingly, I do. Everyone else seems to hate it, but there's nothing I can do about that. Like the 1999 Tomie, it gives the impression of having layers to discover. It's not just a mess, but instead a complicated story that its writer-director simply isn't managing to get across to his audience. However everything's still there, underneath, and I like Oikawa's style and sense of texture. I liked the possible reference again to Tomie's lesbian leanings. I liked the gross bits. I was amused by the silly little flash from that big shotgun, although I presume that was unintentional. It confused me, it encouraged me to try to puzzle it out and in its way it's quite stylish. However I'm still thankful that for Beginning
, Oikawa wasn't his own scriptwriter.