How does one accurately describe an atrocity like Tomie? It’s not good by any means, but it’s certainly not bad ether. I think the only way to file the first installment of the Tomie saga is under “train wreck”; ghastly in nature, yet impossible to turn your morbid gaze away from.
For those of you wondering if I used the word “atrocity” out of context here, let me explain. You see, “Tomie” is the property of writer/artist/genius Junji Ito (who had a highly successful outing with “Uzumaki”) and is based on one of his mangas - the atrocity of which I speak is the deli caliber butchering of this particular story arch.
The film opens with a street scene – and a cycloptic man carrying a strange package. As the hustle n’ bustle continues, an unwary pedestrian bumps into him. This man’s name is Tanabe Yamamoto, and (as we discover later) is a former high school teacher. As Tanabe stops to undress the plastic bag and check the condition of his precious cargo, we’re met with the sunken, ember colored glare of a beautiful woman. Enter Tsukiko, a young girl of college age who is seeking therapy for her amnesia. You see, Tsukiko is haunted by dreams of a car accident that she can’t remember the details of. Oddly, terrible things are happening to all of her previous classmates - with 8 coincidental suicides, and the rest in mental institutions - leaving some people skeptical and untrusting of her.
Let me just say before I get too far into things, that my biggest problems with this movie are written and directorial, and considering the writer and director are the same man – that would only stand to reason. As I stated before “Tomie” is a takeoff of a popular manga, and for some reason, the first half of the story arch is completely omitted from the film. While I can see the point in preserving the mystery for the viewer (but, then again, if you read the back of the DVD case, it pretty much blows THAT for you from the get go), it would go a long way in clearing up what could be considered a cohesively thin storyline. What Oikawa doesn’t bother to go out of his way to explain is the fact that Tomie’s ENTIRE senior class (including professor Tanabe) conspired to kill her. When Tsukiko’s boyfriend actually accomplishes the task (which we’re shown in the only flashbacks eluding to this point), the students bury the body, and cover their tracks. But as they’re gossiping about the murder in class the next day, Tomie saunters in as thought nothing has happened – wondering why everyone looks like they’ve seen a ghost…. The screenplay picks up AFTER this has already occurred. Waiter, there’s a hole in my plot!
If you haven’t inferred from the following, Tomie does not die. Burnings, beheadings, and poisonings are just a few of the many methods people have tried to dispose of her, all to ill effect, or at least not to the desired effect, as she refuses to behave like a good little girl and drop dead when she’s supposed to. For an added threat, if any part of her is severed, even the tiniest bit, it regrows a whole ‘nother Tomie – a la the magic broom in Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, and considering Tomie is a boomeranging Psycho twat from hell (you know the type - evil, stole your boyfriend and/or cheated on you, and all the while spat venomous, knifelike remarks that belittled you to an infinitesimal magnitude), why WOULDN’T the whole class want to kill the bitch?
Now, if this were at least insinuated (overlapping dialogue during the opening credits would have - at the very least - helped); “Tomie” would be infinitely easier to understand. In choosing to shift focus from Tomie’s grudge against her class, to the much, much smaller story arch of Tomie’s grudge against Tsukiko specifically, the plot becomes an infuriatingly confounded web of who’s, what’s, and why’s. It seems, throughout this twilight zone-esqe series of events, that Tomie is whacking both Tsukiko’s friends AND (less sensibly) her enemies, when, in reality, the connection was much bigger: Tomie hated everyone who wronged her, and wanted vengeance against them ALL. Many of my complaints about the writing stem from this main gripe, and you think that Oikawa would at least redeem himself in the directing department; but alas, you would be mistaken.
It’s not all bad, as he handles the Tomie material with a certain amount of flare and style (In fact, a scene where Tsukiko’s current boyfriend is accosted by a shadowy Tomie in the restaurant where he works with nothing but a soft, red, cascading glow to light the room is brilliant). That’s what makes his poor directorial decisions so much more disappointing. Some might call the pacing deliberate, when it is, in fact, plodding - like walking through drying cement and it never really MOVES anywhere. And because “Tomie” is clearly a case of style over substance, some characters are completely tossed to the background. When every person is so completely necessary, Oikawa basically shoots himself in the foot as far as making sense is concerned. A prime example is when we’re introduced to Tanabe and Tsukiko’s landlord, who only appears twice. The first time is a wide shot, probably utilized to set up the apartment complex from afar – thusly, we don’t see his face close enough to distinguish it. The second time is an extreme close up, as he attempts to drown Tsukiko. I’ve had more than one person ask me at that point… “Who the fuck is that guy?”, and my answer never changes, no matter what the question… “I’ve read the manga”.
Speaking of key differences between the manga as opposed to the movie, and the factors that actively work against it; I bring to your attention the fantastic (liberal use of the word here) twist ending. Tomie confronts Tsukiko on a dock (dock!?!) and, after kissing her (sorry - not as hot as you think), exposes the big, God awful truth: Tsukiko IS Tomie. Now I know a few of you have your hands raised, and I assure you, I will indeed field your question – but this is a repeating theme in Tomie films. Innocent, often naive young girls somehow become her, by means never fully explained by the movie (have we noticed a pattern yet?). Now, by kissing Tsukiko, she and Tomie actually underwent - what they call in the nursing industry - “fluid transfer”. Tomie’s bodily secretions actually have a viral quality, infecting others via blood, bile, and saliva – which is how the hero always ends up succumbing to her charms, and the heroin inevitably becomes her, but because this is never fully addressed, it just becomes one more “?” in a tall stack of questions that litter the film like medical waste on the Jersey coast.
Yet, even after all of this, “Tomie” is not a complete waste. Some great kill scenes, wonderful compositional shots (the aforementioned restaurant sequence), almost retro tone (the filming reminded me of the old school “Power Rangers” episodes from the early 90’s, when they were still using the bulk of the Japanese footage), and solid performances make for, at the very least, an interesting viewing experience.
Our Tomie, Miho Kanno, is a very talented young actress (for further proof, watch “The Hypnotist” and see what I mean) and the very image of Junji Ito’s demon girl (from the lips of Ito himself). Out of all the actresses chosen to play Tomie, hers is my favorite portrayal (a close second being Miki Sakai in Tomie: Rebirth). Kanno graces the role with certain cold, mechanical air that would give even William Perry frostbite (oddly, I don’t mean “the Fridge”, I mean the British commodore and arctic explorer of the 1800’s… learning is FUN). And seeming as how Tomie is a cloning experiment gone terribly awry (don’t look for that in the movie, it’s strictly a manga plot point), the clockwork quality about her was much appreciated. Kanno’s Tomie is a soulless, nightmare creature: selfish, uncompassionate, and supremely manipulative - truly the worst qualities of femininity – stitched together, and encased in beautiful, alluring flesh, all to pull the puppet strings of men, and serve as a reminder of that sick ugliness of human nature to always have an agenda, always reserve forgiveness with extreme prejudice, and always, always, ALWAYS consider loyalty a turncoat. Mami Nakamura’s Tsukiko is serviceable, but ultimately falls flat as a character, so it was hard for me to identify with her. Sure she cries a little, but it takes more than that to evoke any sympathy as far as I’m concerned. MAKE ME CARE, otherwise I won’t. The same goes for Kouta Kusano as Tsukiko’s boy-toy Saiga. Personally, I found him to be an inconsiderate jerk, and I don’t think he had to stretch too much – I have a low tolerance for shady people. Keji Mizuhashi and Tomoro Taguchi, however, were very good support as Tanabe and Harada, an overwrought high school teacher driven to madness, and a more than slightly obsessed detective respectively. It was like a breath of fresh air whenever they appeared on screen; especially when Mami and Kouta did so poorly in there, undeservingly, more featured roles.
The DVD from Adness Entertainment is in anamorphic widescreen, and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, so the translation from film to disc is fine, but unfortunately offers very little in the way of extras. We see trailers for all 5 Tomie films (yes kids, there are FOUR more) and a 30 minute, subtitled, “Making Of” featurette, which is interesting enough, but nothing to drool over.
In summation, Tomie – point blank – is a bad adaptation of a good manga (if you want to see a good adaptation of a good story arch, see Tomie: Rebirth), forcing itself to the level of fondue grade cheese. It’s a weird teen drama with a pseudo zombie thrown in, making for a light horror salad. It’s the Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th of Japanese cinema, and great in it’s awfulness. As long as you embrace it as such, you just might find yourself enjoying the flavor.