It's the fourth Tomie film, starring the Junji Ito horror manga character. Tomie is the impossibly beautiful woman who can't die, but keeps getting killed anyway. She drives men insane and they murder her. The problem is that decapitation, burial and/or burning her remains to ashes aren't enough to keep her body parts from regenerating into a new body, so by the end of a Tomie movie you're likely to have multiple ever-spawning Tomies bringing death and misery to everyone around them.
This wouldn't be so bad if she didn't seem to get a kick from it. Destroying lives makes Tomie giggle.
What's different about this particular instalment is that it's directed by Takashi Shimizu, the writer/director behind the horror franchise Ju-on. I like Ju-on. However unfortunately I didn't like this film, so I won't be taking that too far.
One plus point is that Miki Sakai's quite a good Tomie. She's not even remotely pretty enough, of course, but almost no actress could be. That's the problem with a live-action movie. (I'd be interested in seeing this as anime.) Tomie's a demon who can drive any man out of his senses with her beauty, turning them into her homicidally obsessed slaves, yet Miki Sakai's... vaguely pretty. Photos of her from ten years later make her look like someone's mum. However the important thing is that she can act, which is something you can't say of all previous Tomies, and I believed in her take on Tomie's parasitic, "pull the wings off flies" personality.
Compare with Jennifer's Body
, for instance. I think you could just about sell Megan Fox as Tomie, but would you rather have stunning good looks or acting ability?
However the film's fundamental problem is that nothing's driving its plot. The men are rubbish. None of them have any personality, whether or not they're Tomie-obsessed, and on top of that they're badly acted. You can't usually regard them as protagonists because they'll turn into zombies as soon as Tomie gets her hooks into them, although to be fair we eventually get a plot thread about Satoshi Tsumabuki trying to save his girlfriend Kumiko Endo. Meanwhile Tomie herself isn't driving the plot either. That's not the kind of thing she does. She doesn't have a plan. She just wanders around, resurrecting herself when necessary and destroying lives because that's the kind of personality she has.
What's best about it, I think, are the women. I've already praised Miki Sakai, but Endo isn't too bad either and there's one fascinating character played by Yutaka Nakajima. (According to imdb, this was her last screen credit in a nearly thirty-year career.) She's the best thing in the film. Her son's brought home a strange girl, whom she doesn't like one little bit. Supernatural feminine wiles don't work on her, obviously, and so the inference is that every aggressive or scary thing she does must be due to her own personality. The scenes between those two are actually disturbing, giving us competent actresses in a warped version of a "mother-in-law" relationship, while later on there's some mother-son bonding that's creepy in a way you're not imagining.
I have to say that I blame the director. The script's not broken. With a strong cast and a claustrophobic, character-based focus on them, you could turn this into something powerful. Unfortunately the male actors are capable of being amateurish, while Shimizu's camera is keeping his distance from them and making the story look slow. Occasionally it was a struggle to keep my eyes open. However that said, Shimizu does manage to do some things well. There are little details I enjoyed, such as the strange poster on that lamppost, while the film's both capturing that Junji Ito atmosphere and sometimes getting nasty enough to give you a jolt. There are scenes and shots here that might make you wince, while the film succeeds at creating a nightmarish reality where there's no point thinking about everyday things like policemen and you'll accept, say, a severed head crawling along on hands like tentacles.
There's also a memorable special effects shot at the climax. That's proper Junji Ito.
If you're familiar with the original manga, this is based on stories from volume 2: The Painter and Hair. Did I like it? No. I'm fascinated by Tomie as a unique horror monster, but that doesn't mean I have to like her movies. Nevertheless there's something hypnotically specific about her version of vampirism. If you're infected by Dracula, you just become another vampire. However if you're infected by Tomie, you become her. Not just a monster with the same superpowers, but actually her. A plague of vampires is bad enough, but the idea of the world being turned into billions of Tomie is a different and, to my mind, still more ghastly horror. Oh, and in this film, oddly enough, I don't think anyone kills her out of sexual jealousy. Instead she keeps getting murdered for being a bitch.
In summary: undramatic and slow. In fact the word I'd use for a lot of it is "motionless". There are things I like in here, but the film as a whole doesn't work. However if you've set your expectations for this, you'll find a faithful realisation of Junji Ito's twisted horror concepts.