Itsuji ItaoAsamiKeisuke HoribeNako Mizusawa
Tamami: The Baby's Curse
Medium: film
Year: 2008
Director: Yudai Yamaguchi
Writer: Hirotoshi Kobayashi, Kazuo Umezu
Keywords: horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Nako Mizusawa, Goro Noguchi, Takumi Saito, Itsuji Itao, Keisuke Horibe, Etsuko Ikuta, Atsuko Asano, Asami, Teru
Format: 100 minutes
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 26 July 2013
It's a horror film about a killer mutant baby. Sometimes it works like gangbusters, but at other times it's just bad or silly. I really liked some bits of it, but it needed to pick a tone and then stick with it consistently.
You should probably know that Yudai Yamaguchi's films until then had been much sillier. He started out co-writing and doing second unit direction on Versus, then went on to Battlefield Baseball with Tak Sakaguchi and The Great Horror Family for Takashi Shimizu. He did a movie version of the Cromartie High manga, which is a school where the pupils include thugs, yakuza look-a-likes, a giant, a gorilla and an obnoxious robot. (Aliens invade.) Tamami: The Baby's Curse was actually his most controlled and mature work to that date, after which he branched out again the following year with Elite Yankee Saburo, a straight comedy with no horror elements.
This isn't a comedy, although I could imagine Tamami getting laughs. She's actually in her teens, but she's baby-sized and a freak. Imagine a massive knot of muscle with a face. She looks like Nosferatu and her hands can snap a man's head clean off.
She's scary, I'll give her that, but it's also goofy to see her chasing people and bouncing around like Yoda. This film can be divided into three sections: (a) Not Scary Yet, (b) the good bit, (c) Tamami on the rampage.
I'll begin at the beginning, with Not Scary Yet. Nako Mizusawa is a girl from an orphanage who's learned that she has parents after all. Her father, Goro Noguchi, collects medieval curios, such as European suits of armour and bottles of acid. He's a nice guy, though. Her mother, Atsuko Asano spends her days cuddling a teddy bear under the impression that it's her long-dead daughter, refuses to acknowledge Mizusawa's existence and clearly has some bats in her belfry. She's a loony. Etsuko Ikuta is their housekeeper, who hates all of humanity and looks as if she's come from a Universal horror film. Meanwhile the neighbours have put up electrical fences around their property and have hired guard dogs to attack anyone who might try to get in from the Noguchi/Asano residence.
It even seems likely that that driver at the beginning who claimed to have a conked-out carburettor was instead unwilling to drive up to that house. Mizusawa's going to have a fun time.
This early section is pretty good, but its problem is Mizusawa. She can barely act. She can manage one thing per scene, more or less, which is usually a generalised emotional state with no detail for individual beats or actions. She has one decent scene later on, when she's talking to Tamami, but she sucks the life out of sequences where she's exploring the house on her own. At first I thought it was the director, refusing to let his actress pull her weight on-screen, but I don't think Yamaguchi had much choice short of sacking Mizusawa and recasting her. Note how much involving Keisuke Horibe manages to make a much simpler sequence, outside in the garden.
(I liked Horibe. He's got a snap to him.)
Oh, and the film's set in 1960. I forgot about this, except with the telephones and the WWII reference. We're alone with these few characters in a big house miles from anywhere, so it's not hard for the production team to make the film look kind of classical... but nothing about it screams 1960 either.
That's the film's first section. After that we get into the good bit, which starts more or less with our first point-of-view shot from Tamami's perspective. We see blood. We get scared. Tamami is serious bad news and she's on the loose, which turns everywhere in the house into a potential Tamami playground. It's like a haunted house, but worse... and we're stuck there. Mizusawa's got nowhere else to go. She can't contact the ophanage, because no one's heard from Horibe. Asano is useless. Ikuta says "no" to every question before you've even finished asking it. Noguchi seems reliable, but even so that's just one ally against a whole lot of bad stuff.
We're afraid of the house itself. We're also stuck in the house. As I said, this is where the film gets good.
Then things gradually get cheesier. Tamami shows up and starts doing Yoda impressions. Someone's head gets snapped off, which I'd have found scarier if I could have believed in it. Someone's arm gets cut off and they don't seem to regard this as a significant encumbrance, getting up and moving around normally instead of, say, bleeding to death. There's electrocution without a completed circuit. The film doesn't actually get silly, but it does get violent and a bit formulaic. There's emotional material, but unfortunately it's been given to Mizusawa (although she does better than you'd expect) and Tamami (ditto and she's a special effect). I'm also not sure I understood the burning of the teddy bear. That Asano material doesn't really hang together or go anywhere, I think. It just comes across as Mad Person Being Mad, instead of actually having an emotional journey or a point.
There's still stuff to like in that final section, though. It's by no means a dead loss. It just feels as if it's drifted away from where the film had been before. There's a great (i.e. gross) kill and I thought they did well at bringing alive Tamami and making us understand her point of view. The lipstick was a lovely little scene, I thought.
No nudity, by the way. We see Mizusawa in the bath, but she's put in so much soap or something that the water's opaque. It's not that kind of film.
Overall, it's a film I think you'd enjoy better on a rewatch. On first exposure, it's just too much of a patchwork. Each of its three sections would work better in a film designed to fit them. As it stands, though, you'll have to withstand some whiplash from the tonal shifts. That will be easier if you've experienced the film before and can simply enjoy the moment better. Overall, it's a "looking forward to seeing what he does next time" movie, but there are things it does very well indeed. They just needed to be incorporated into a better planned whole, although in fairness he didn't have a completely free hand as he's adapting a manga. (It's by Kazuo Umezu. I hear he's good.)