It's the fifth Tomie film and the last for a few years. There was a splurge of them in 1999-2002, then they thinned out a bit. Fortunately this one's quite good, especially compared with its predecessors. (Until this, the only one I'd say I actually liked was number 3
What I appreciated most was the fact that it doesn't feel like a Tomie film. Yes, Tomie returns to life if you kill her. Yes, she's eternally beautiful and thinks it's fun to ask men to commit murder. However that's merely a description of Tomie herself, whereas for once the plot isn't merely the usual cycle of male obsession and murder. Instead this is a proper movie with a story and characters who more or less retain their sanity throughout, which furthermore is using the mythology in a way I hadn't seen before in these films.
For a start, there are two Tomies. No, not as in "Tomie vs Tomie
". I'm not talking about the same personality inhabiting two bodies, but instead two girls who happen to go by that name. My first question was which of them was the real Tomie and which one merely a namesake, assuming of course that the answer wasn't "neither" or "both". The film's main characters are:
1. Aoi Miyazaki on the face of it seems just right for a true Tomie, being a loner who refers to herself as a vampire, but her personality and family circumstances are all wrong. She appears to have a father (Jun Kunimura). She's bullied at school. She's a nice girl who doesn't go looking for boys... and furthermore she's being played by an award-winning actress. I've talked about Miyazaki before. She's known for her pure image and her movies have played at the Cannes Film Festival. She was in Nana, Virgin Snow and the 218-minute Eureka
, which isn't as intimidating as its running time suggests but still isn't to be tackled lightly. She's still only a teenager here and merely good rather than brilliant, but even so she's an excellent fit for the role and carries it well.
2. Nozomi Ando is the other Tomie and a less famous actress. She was Sakuya in Sakuya: Slayer of Demons
, not to mention the lead character in Werewolf Warrior. However she's in no way disgraced by her co-stars and I like the level at which she's pitched her performance. I think it's good for the movie.
3. Jun Kunimura is Miyazaki's father and a very solid actor indeed. Films from is impressive CV that I've heard of include Japan Sinks, Kill Bill
, Ichi the Killer
... oh, and he appeared again with Miyazaki in Mt. Tsurugidake
. Surprisingly, he has proper acting work to do here. This isn't the usual cheap straight-to-DVD horror. Kunimura's excellent in a role that's demanding that level of performance. He's having to go to some extreme psychological places while never losing it, instead underneath continuing to show us the same thoughtful, decent man. For starters, he can resist Tomie to an extent. He's not immune to her charms, but he doesn't simply have a psycho personality wipe as has happened with all other men who've met her until now.
Incidentally one of Miyazaki's bullies is Yuka Fujimoto, who also played Kana in Scoutman
. I have now seen both of her films. She's not really pretty and you couldn't call her expressive, but she's got screen presence.
Anyway, that's the cast. The story's still basically Tomie, but only in the second half. The first half involves exploring the three main characters and the friendship of Miyazaki and Ando. This has a lesbian element too strong even to be called subtext, but just as importantly it's one of those intense friendships you can get with teenage girls.
Eventually the Tomie-ness pokes its head out and we start to get an idea of what's going on, but even there this didn't yet feel like a Tomie film to me. We have a new story angle on her immortality. This is surprising in itself because it implies that Tomie was around 25 years ago and yet the world hasn't yet been destroyed or plunged into Tomie-clone hell, which would seem unthinkable if you've seen the first four films in this series. This movie feels real, in a manner that's refreshing compared with the feverishness of Junji Ito.
The film's first half I liked a lot. It's possibly a bit boring if you're just looking for a horror movie, but I was getting into the characters and the story. After that, the film takes a right turn into more Tomie-ish horror territory and I think loses a little steam. I still liked it, but it feels more like a horror movie and so as a result I felt the lack of pace. Tomie films are slow. The only question is how well they sell this to you. However that said, the film remains good and there's still plenty to like in its second half, from Kunimura's character developments ("I love Tomie") to its dry sense of humour. I laughed. It's only in occasional moments, but I did. Taking a turnip-like regenerating Tomie out in a baby buggy definitely shows a sense of the absurd, while I loved what happens to the three bullies. That was awesome.
Oh, and the paedophile one-liner is not only funny, but I think the actor's playing it as subtext in his later brief appearance too. Don't worry, nothing happens.
The twist at the end doesn't work, though. It makes sense as a horror sting, the kind of thing you'd expect from Junji Ito or an old EC horror comic, but it doesn't make sense for the characters.
Overall, I could almost say I admire this. However I like it more in retrospect than I did at the time, since it is still a bit slow and could have done with being shorter. However if you're prepared for that, it works. Tomie's interesting because she appears to be functional in normal society and not quite as evil this time. Okay, she's evil, but in an incidental kind of way instead of practically being Satan. However the three important things about this film are: (a) the high-profile casting, which works, (b) the story that's getting into the characters and (c) the way that the director is actually going there, unlike Takashi Shimizu last time. Okay, you'd have to be crazy to cast Miyazaki and Kunimura in the main roles and then not build the film around them, but that doesn't mean I'm not grateful for the fact that Nakahara did it. Way more interesting and thoughtful than I expected.