Damn, I wish I'd known to start with this film. It's the sixth in the series, but it's adapting Junji Ito's first Tomie manga and it introduces a bunch of characters who'd return in previous films, like that one-eyed guy and the rogue teacher on a Tomie-killing mission. Now I'm tempted to go back and rewatch them.
It's also great. Turning upside-down the rules for a long-running horror movie series, I thought the first few Tomie films were weak, but by this point they're going from strength to strength.
What made this feel special for me is that it feels like the birth of Tomie. Admittedly even by this early point she's been getting killed and reborn for centuries, but here for once the character is being portrayed as a person rather than as merely a sanity-destroying force of destruction. She's capable of being hurt. Look at how she reaches out to Reiko (Asami Imajuku), for instance. You can see the way her attitudes are being shaped by the bullying and jealousy she meets at every turn. Underneath the twisted revenge techniques and mental domination of her classmates, you can see a girl who could have taken other choices and not become a monster.
This Tomie isn't even particularly homicidal. She doesn't kill her enemies, or clamp on to boys like a leech before annihilating them. That's not to call her a good person, but if you're familiar with this franchise, you'll be regarding her as the devil. Here she already has all her superpowers, but at times you could almost mistake her for human.
Personally I loved that. I think this story's mere existence improves the entire franchise.
Furthermore, the actress who's playing her this time, Rio Matsumoto, for me is clearly the best Tomie to date. Her performance is (usually) strong. She's playing all those notes I've been talking about and I was looking up her filmography afterwards to see what else she'd been in. However on top of all that, she looks right in the role! This is astonishing. I'd come to assume that live-action Tomie adaptations would all be based around some forgettable J-star whom, at best, you wouldn't kick out of bed. Matsumoto though sells it. She's sufficiently beautiful that for once I could believe this was destroying the minds of her classmates, while furthermore it's the right kind of beauty. Every so often Oikawa gives her a very deliberate close-up and her eyes become huge and creepy, as if she's a manga character.
The rest of the cast is mostly okay. It's set at school and not without iffy teenage acting, but with only a few glitches I accepted what I was watching. Asami Imajuku makes some interesting choices as Tomie's friend, which makes for a more uncomfortable and less predictable relationship than we saw with sweet Aoi Miyazaki in The Final Chapter
. Imajuku's hard-faced manner really adds something to the film.
Ataru Oikawa even maintains continuity by bringing back an actor he'd used before, Kenji Mizuhashi again playing Yamamoto. (Oikawa also directed the first Tomie film
back in 1999.) On the other hand I think Yoshiyuki Morishita's the second actor to play Takagi, but that I can live with as he's always great to watch. Well, "great" in the sense of "ugly little bugger". I always think of him as Mr Bad Teeth.
I like Oikawa's direction too. It feels faithful to Junji Ito by giving us a heightened reality and some extreme lighting choices. Look at all that green. Look at how he uses shadow. It's not naturalistic, but it's correct for the material. However on the downside I suspect they used watercolour paint instead of proper fake blood during shooting, because the gore scenes don't look right.
If you're new to Tomie, start here. It's where the manga begins, so you should too. It's a strong introduction to the mythology, but more importantly it's a good film. I'd recommend it. "Beginning" might be a misleading title if you'd been hoping for a superhero origin story or an 18th century samurai vs. Tomie epic (which I'd love to see), but personally I thought it kicked off the franchise on the perfect note. It's just a shame they waited this long before adapting it, if only because the original film in 1999 made some clumsy scripting choices and will almost certainly work better watched back-to-back with this.
This film has everything, including cruelty, "what if" sadness and scenes to freak you out. The happy group dissection. The ear crawling off by itself. The bandages. I like the framing story, which gives the plot more shape. It made me wonder about how much continuity of consciousness there is between different Tomies, when they're reborn. It also made me wonder if, under different circumstances, Tomie could even have been nice.
"I'm fed up of dying! It hurts!"