It's the J-horror franchise that can't be killed! This is the ninth film so far about Junji Ito's immortal sanity-eating beauty whose hobby is getting murdered, but more importantly it's from the franchise's most big-name director yet, Noboru Iguchi. His other movies in 2011 were Karate-Robo Zaborgar and Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead, while his oeuvre also includes gems like Mutant Girls Squad, The Ancient Dogoo Girl, RoboGeisha, The Machine Girl
and Sukeban Boy
Yes, I'm being flippant. However Iguchi is indeed an internationally known brand name among fans of silly, ludicrous trash. This film is indeed over-the-top, but surprisingly it's not silly... or more precisely, it's silly in exactly the right disturbing ways for Junji Ito. The result is a high-energy Tomie film that's a shot in the arm for the franchise.
The film can be divided into two halves, the serious bit and the over-the-top special effects. Both are important. Tsukiko (Moe Arai) is a schoolgirl with a mother (Maiko Kawakami), father (Koichi Ohori) and big sister Tomie (Miu Nakamura). Yes, that's right. Tomie has a little sister. This time it's not just about sexual desire and fighting over boyfriends, although there will be some of that. No, this time it's about family. Tomie dies, then comes back. This doesn't surprise us because we've seen Tomie films before... although that said, anyone who hasn't might get a bit confused. Her family though are gobsmacked. Kawakami and Ohori go into ecstasies of parental bliss. Arai is happy too, but then Tomie starts being Tomie. This is twice as creepy as normal because of the incestuous implications. She shows lesbian inclinations, as is her wont, but this time she's hitting on her own sister, in the bath. Ohori is caught licking his daughter's hair.
This will bend your brain. What the dickens is going on? Are they feeling sexual desire and merely not realising that's what it is, instead seeing it as natural love for one's family? Or else instead do Tomie's superpowers work differently in this situation, since her victims love her already? I found all this fascinating, plus of course disturbing.
The other side of the film is the special effects. These are important. A Junji Ito film should be unlike any other. He creates images with the arbitrary surrealism of a nightmare. The flowerpot head that eventually turns into Little Shop of Horrors, the Tomie Centipedes, the body parts that grow where they shouldn't... it's like a horrific Alice in Wonderland. Iguchi goes for this like no director ever has. This is perhaps regrettable since it means discarding all that disturbing semi-incest material he had going in the first half, but it lets him plunge us into amazing Junji Ito hell like you've never seen. Uzumaki surpasses it for insanity, but not for monstrosity. Occasionally the special effects get a bit too rubbery, e.g. the talking glove puppet on Aika Ohta's shoulder or the bad CGI as a character gets pulled in half, but this is Junji Ito. To go for realism would be to miss the point. Besides, occasionally it works like gangbusters, so for instance the Giant Tomie Head freaked me out when it licked its lips.
In the second half Iguchi builds up the Tomie apocalypse to such a fever pitch that in the end there's only one way he can go. He reboots and does it again. There are things here you've never seen. This Tomie would eat Freddy Krueger for breakfast... which unfortunately means that when Iguchi tries to pull things back for a more character-based emotional climax, I don't think it works. I'd have bought it without the Hieronymus Bosch, but as it stands, no. Theoretically it's quite good. I like it. I just couldn't quite believe in the film's attempt to revive a big sister relationship for those characters in that context.
I liked the cast. As usual, Iguchi has cast a bunch of models and actors known for pink films, but the only one who ever seemed shaky to me was Aika Ohta. The others are all fine. Ohori reminded me of a Japanese Peter Lorre, but more importantly Miu Nakamura is one of the few actresses I've ever seen with a Tomie face. That's the Achilles heel of most live-action Tomie adaptations. Tomie's supposed to be the most beautiful girl you've ever seen, so unbearably gorgeous that any man who meets her goes homicidally insane. Jealousy drives them to murder. Unsurprisingly there aren't many real actresses who look like that... but with Nakamura, I could believe it. It's not enough to be merely pretty. You've got to look special. She does. She's also a competent enough actress, which you wouldn't expect given that she's also a singer and gravure idol.
The darkroom plot device is getting a bit creaky, though. They just about get away with it here because Arai's in her school photography club, but one day the Tomie franchise is going to have to move into the 21st century and let its characters go digital. However having said that, I like darkroom scenes in movies. They're photogenic.
Overall, I thought it was impressive. It becomes much more of a visual experience in the second half, which I regretted, but you can't say Iguchi's not doing Junji Ito justice. He's keeping it tight. It's not a pisstake, unlike other Iguchi films, and there isn't even any nudity, if you don't count a shambling bloody corpse with long hair hiding her important bits. Iguchi could easily have sleazed up the "lesbian suggestions in the bath" scenes, for instance, but he doesn't. I respect that. Instead he's made a film in which the cast and their mental breakdowns feel real, which is impressive given the world he's vividly creating around them. It's a film about love, in a Dante-like way, and some of its most effective scenes are its quietest. The random Tomies in the street at the end are sinister, for instance.
Have you ever wanted to see the world go mad? Here's your chance, with bells on.