Ikko SuzukiTomieMiho KannoYoriko Douguchi
Medium: film
Year: 1999
Director: Ataru Oikawa
Writer: Ataru Oikawa, Junji Ito
Keywords: horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Miho Kanno, Mami Nakamura, Yoriko Douguchi, Tomorowo Taguchi, Kouta Kusano, Kae Minami, Kenji Mizuhashi, Rumi, Ikko Suzuki
Format: 95 minutes
Series: Tomie >>
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0240119/
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 2 July 2011
This is the second time I've watched this film. I've just reread my original review and... whoah, that was harsh. However I can understand how I felt, because this original 1999 Tomie is actively fighting against clarity. I've seen the first six films in the series and this particular film twice, but even so I was struggling to follow it.
The first thing you need to know is that this isn't the start of the series. It merely looks that way because it's the first one they made. Tomie: Beginning (2005) is the real starting point, because it adapts Junji Ito's first Tomie manga story, and I see it as mandatory viewing before coming to this. Trust me on this. Don't even consider not beginning with Beginning, although frankly I'd recommend watching all the others too before eventually getting around to this one. You might as well try to prepare yourself. Anything's better than going in cold.
It's a direct sequel to Beginning. Kenji Mizuhashi's back (if I can say that) as the one-eyed Kenichi Yamamoto and obviously you'll remember him, although as always they've recast Tomie and all their other supposed classmates are people we didn't get to know last time. The film begins with Mizuhashi and a head in a bag, in a direct continuation of the last shot of Beginning. That's the first plot thread. #2 involves Mami Nakamura, who's a photography student with amnesia, insomnia and a slightly uneasy relationship with her boyfriend. She thinks she was involved in a traffic accident a few years ago. Because of this she's seeing a psychiatrist, Yoriko Doguchi, although I'm not sure that's a great idea because Doguchi is a fairly cold person who doesn't have an open mind.
Plot thread #3 is rubbish and involves Tomorowo Taguchi as a detective. I have no problem at all with Taguchi, who's good, but his plot thread never joins up with the rest of the film and merely exists for exposition purposes. This is a "tell, don't show" film. Most of what we learn about from Tomie simply comes from Taguchi telling us, instead of discovering it by watching things happen. Furthermore Taguchi for some reason keeps bugging Doguchi and telling her all this unbelievable stuff, despite the fact that she's openly ignoring him while he talks.
Come on, Doguchi. Die, bitch. Heh heh.
As a film, it feels more primitive than Beginning. They share the same director, but this was clearly made more cheaply and quickly. Look at how rushed the exterior shots often are, for instance. Oikawa will just plonk the camera down a considerable distance from the actors, get through the scene and then move on without bothering to get alternative set-ups. However it does feel more gruesome, with more atmospheric violence and so it's a bit more disturbing.
Oikawa's also bad at narrative clarity, both as a director and a writer, so characters aren't introduced properly and it's hard work to keep track of what's going on. Actually, I'll help you now. Nakamura's character is called Tuskiko Izumisawa, her boyfriend is called Saiga and the other girl is called Kaori. Write those down on a piece of paper. It'll save you a bit of effort.
I like the actors, though. Mami Nakamura is a strong lead and afterwards I was looking up her other movies. Goodness me, she was also Miyuki in Tokyo Trash Baby. That's a role that gives you nowhere to hide. Meanwhile Kota Kusano broods well as the boyfriend and ends up actually being scary. Finally, as for Tomie herself, she's being played rather well by Miho Kanno. Oikawa keeps her face hidden for the first hour of the film, which is an interesting idea given the obvious difficulties in expecting a real actress to represent a monster of such beauty that she drives all men insane. It doesn't quite work as you'd expect, but I suppose it was worth a try. However when Kanno is is finally unveiled and given her big acting opportunity, she finds that touch of pain and humanity that always makes a Tomie more interesting while still remaining a figure of horror.
The film also had me speculating about Tomie herself. She again uses insects as food, which has now cropped up enough to make me wonder if at some stage in her evolution that was her diet. There's also that hint of lesbianism we've seen elsewhere in the series, perhaps reflecting her disdain for men.
Does the smoking mean anything, by the way? There's enough of it to draw attention to itself, but I don't see what purpose it serves.
The big stumbling block is the plot, obviously. People get killed, but then don't disappear from the film. They're not even all called Tomie. I wouldn't always be sure if I wasn't watching a flashback, a retcon or a pre-death hallucination. Eventually things go in yet another direction and I remembered that Tomie can infect other people and turn them into additional Tomies, which would be the key piece of information we need and yet we're never told it. Eh? Then the film's last scene won't make sense unless: (a) you've remembered that Tomie has a mole under her left eye, and (b) you've either got a photographic memory or you're about to rewind back through the film to check something. (If the latter, you'd be right, by the way.) I now think that's a strong and interesting finale, but I also think you'd have to be a bit of a Tomie fanboy to fully appreciate it.
This isn't a particularly good Tomie film. It's flawed. It won't make sense if you're not familiar with the mythology, but if you are then you'll get impatient during Taguchi's info-dumping. Dramatically, that detective shouldn't be there. Perhaps he returns in a later film, but if so, he's played by a different actor. On my first viewing, I thought this film was downright bad. This time I liked it better, but I wouldn't dream of recommending it as a starting point. There's a topless woman, mind you. That's worth something.
Previous review: 19 May 2010
This had eight sequels? It deserved to sink without trace and never be thought of again, whereas if you don't count American remakes, it spawned Japan's most prolific horror franchise of the post-Ringu era. I realise we're living in the land of straight-to-video here (or at the very least something cheap enough to look like it), but even so there's no way this deserved any success whatsoever on its own merits as a movie.
There have been nine Tomie films to date. There was a splurge of them in 1999-2002, then a few more in later years. Here's the list:
1. Tomie (1999)
2. Tomie: Another Face (1999)
3. Tomie: Replay (2000)
4. Tomie: Re-birth (2001)
5. Tomie: The Final Chapter - Forbidden Fruit (2002)
6. Tomie: Beginning (2005)
7. Tomie: Revenge (2005)
8. Tomie vs Tomie (2007)
9. Tomie Unlimited (2011)
I've also stumbled across a Tomie rip-off from Hong Kong, called Model from Hell, so there may well be more.
The key factor is that Tomie was originally a Junji Ito horror manga. A lot of films have been based on his work, of which the best-known (to me) is the flamboyantly surreal Uzumaki. I haven't read the original Tomie manga, but I've seen bits of it and it looks freaky. One panel for instance has a bunch of heads, limbs and possibly other body parts either growing from, exploding out of or surgically attached to an earthworm. The story of Tomie involves a cursed immortal girl who's so beautiful that men keep falling in love with her and murdering her. You'd think she'd learn to keep her distance. However even if you hack her to pieces, any of those pieces can then grow into a new Tomie who'll then go out to drive yet more men and women into frenzies of lust and jealousy.
That's not even really a spoiler, by the way. The film isn't adapting the manga coherently enough for there to be anything to spoil.
As a movie franchise, Tomie has some interesting features. Firstly, you can cast a new Tomie in every film. This allows lots of different interpretations of the role and gives lots of different actresses a chance to go nuts. Secondly, the nature of the franchise is so cyclical that every film can start with a completely clean slate if if likes, with the only ongoing story element being Tomie herself in her latest body. You don't need to watch the first seven films to understand the eighth one. On the contrary, it's very possible that the series could be watched in almost any order and you'd still get a sense of its universe building up.
That's particularly fortunate in this instance, because it would seem that writer-director Ataru Oikawa is assuming we've read the manga and is adapting it by pulling out random pages and filming them. Even compared with Uzumaki, it doesn't make sense. Characters don't get proper introductions and we're never quite sure who's who. Stuff happens without motivation or explanation, or else happens offscreen and we know nothing about it. There's a scene in the middle of the film where a character seems to get drowned and I wasn't sure if what came after that was a dream sequence, some kind of resurrection and/or a flashback to a previous Tomie's rampage a few years earlier. Admittedly we end up fairly clear on what Tomie is and the backstory of what happened to her last time, but that's because that's being communicated via exposition rather than through the medium of cinematic storytelling. In fairness the film's individual scenes actually aren't that bad, but they don't add up to a narrative. The film isn't even weird and confusing in a good way. It's just half-digested.
It looks cheap, e.g. the explosion at the end. If this wasn't straight-to-video, it deserved to be. There's one memorable Junji Ito moment with blood dripping into a bath, but it's only a dream sequence. There's also a scene with a topless girl in it, but that's it for memorable visuals.
What's annoying is that there's theoretically some good stuff in here. Tomie herself is cool, both when she's slowly regenerating and then later when she's up and wreaking havoc. Meanwhile there's a subplot of sexual infidelity and people who can't connect with each other that could have been really quite interesting and even in the film as it stands isn't bad, while the concluding twist should have been awesome. As it was though, I wasn't sure whether even to believe it. Meanwhile the acting is okay. Miho Kanno is apparently one of the franchise's more popular Tomies, although she's not actually that attractive and I thought she could have done more with her big confrontation scene. Does it need saying that she sings in a band? As for the cast as a whole, they're doing their jobs and occasionally more, with my favourite being perhaps the brooding boyfriend, which is a slightly less one-dimensional role than it looks. The policeman who likes invading other people's personal space wasn't bad either.
The film feels dated too. Gadgets aren't digital, with instead cassette tape recorders and the kind of old-fashioned camera that requires film and negatives. Admittedly our protagonist is a photography student and so would probably be using a real camera even if digital ones were available, but even so. There are mobile phones, but they have radio antennae. Oh, and people smoke in a hypnotherapist's office, including the hypnotherapist herself while talking to a patient!
This is the kind of film that will merely bore an uninterested viewer, but underneath its uninvolving surface is in fact shockingly bad if you start analysing its structure and judging it as an adaptation of work that deserved far better than it gets here. It's a bit freaky, but not enough. People who've never heard of the material before will probably just get bored and turn it off. Fans of the manga will start ranting. However people overwhelmed by intellectual curiosity might perhaps watch it repeatedly, internalise the story that's being implied rather than told and end up cherishing its very incoherence. Me, I think it's just poor. There's no real reason for anyone to watch it, even as set-up for better films later in the series. It's not setting up anything and the Tomie franchise is fairly immune to that kind of thing anyway. It should have been better.