That was a good Tomie movie! What's more, it's a popular choice for people's favourite film in the whole series. I can't judge that yet since so far I'm only up to number 3 in my watching, but I certainly preferred it to the first two.
Firstly, it's a proper film. It's not an anthology like #2 and it's not randomly throwing bits of manga at the script like #1. Our main character is played by Sayaka Yamaguchi and she's looking for her father. Unfortunately we know from the pre-credits sequence that he made the mistake of being the surgeon for the caesarian of a grossly pregnant ten-year-old.
Don't worry though, it's not what you're thinking. It's worse. What they find inside the little girl is flat-out impossible and immediately demonstrates that this film is set in a world created from the disturbing drawings of a very strange man. (His name's Junji Ito.) In an odd way, you could call him an heir of H.P. Lovecraft. This film isn't merely scaring you, but doing things to your brain. Realism isn't a concern, with things happening that you'd normally only imagine in folk tales. Well, if they were really gross ones. Tomie's resurrection abilities aren't even trying to look like something a human could really be doing. She's more like an earthworm. Cut her in pieces and she'll slither away and start growing herself back.
I'd better backtrack and give some background, though. It's been a while since I last talked about Tomie. She's the ultimate femme fatale. Men fall in love with her, go insane and murder her. Unfortunately she doesn't stay dead. She'll even reproduce. Cut her in two and both halves will start growing. Take a piece of her inside your body and she'll infect you, taking control like a cancer as you develop a parasitic inner Tomie. This makes her a unique movie monster, being at once a victim and a screaming terror who'll destroy your life and that of everyone you know. I was particularly struck by the scene where Yosuke Kubozuka thinks he's glimpsed Tomie and so is now doomed. Men turn into zombies. You can sometimes talk to them, but they're either no longer themselves or else struggling to retain what little they have left. The most appalling example of this is the man whose young daughter has been infected. When we see him he's still more or less in control of himself, but it seems likely that at some point soon he'll become sexually obsessed with his pre-pubescent daughter. Of course by then she'd also be another Tomie, but still.
However at the same time, Tomie's a character in her own right. She's a ghastly person, but even so you can understand the nightmare of her existence and even sometimes sympathise. She has some odd points of view. She thinks people "break" and you can see what she means. She thinks we're fools for loving and trusting each other. She thinks betrayal is universal. However she'll also say all this while walking barefoot through acid, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest there's a masochistic streak in there somewhere.
There are men in this story, of course. The first one is nice. I liked him. He sees a naked woman and treats her decently, helping her and refusing to take advantage of her. That kind of hurt, actually.
What sets it above the other instalments in this series is a strong setting. It's a hospital movie. Yamaguchi's family are all doctors, nurses and specialists. This gives the film lots of disturbing character and makes it more than just another Tomie runaround. Look at the horrible feet of that old lady in the wrong ward, for instance. The nurse statue is creepy, but also I think the film becomes a little more disorientating because it's set in a medical environment. It makes the contrast a little stronger with Tomie's impossibilities. Besides, it's a great setting for sinister stuff like empty corridors through which you see something walking that shouldn't be, or gross-outs like the acid or the footprints. What were those splodges? Why were they yellow?
I liked the actors. Takeshi's face is the scariest thing in one scene. The only one I wasn't wild about was the latest Tomie, Mai Hosho, who can't do an evil laugh convincingly. The following year she'd take an important role in Suicide Club, though.
This film works in two opposing ways. It's a disturbing movie, with some scenes that are just plain wrong and others that are merely horrible. The sounds of Tomie getting sawn up are particularly nasty, for instance. Admittedly they didn't spend much money on the severed head special effects, but I can live with that. However alongside all that, we also have likeable characters in a storyline that's treating them as people rather than cannon fodder. Yamaguchi's missing father was having an affair, for instance, and the other woman has slightly surprising scenes with both the daughter and the wife. The film's aware that sometimes we'll feel the pain more when you hurt your characters in small ways than in big ones. At the end of the day, I cared about this cast and I wanted them to come out of it all okay.
I liked this film a lot. It's good horror, but it's also a good film. Admittedly I'm judging by low-budget J-horror standards, but it's still a thumbs-up.