Oh woe. Oh twisted beautiful bitch goddess, how my heart has ached for you since the moment you left; but just as you promised, you have returned. Oh joyous day; ghastly rapturous clamorous day! How I tried to put you out of my body and mind, but just as the song says: the cat came back… the very next day.
As you may have guessed from the long strings of opening poesy, I have just recently gotten my hands on one of the two newest “Tomie” films. I know the fifth movie promised that it would be “the final chapter”, but what did you expect? No movie franchise stays buried for very long, no matter how arguably unsuccessful it was. Success aside, I found it interesting that Ataru Oikawa returned to write and direct the two latest installments of “Tomie”. You might remember him as the man who unintentionally sabotaged himself during his first outing with this material. Despite the complaints I have with the original “Tomie” I could still tell that Mr. Oikawa had the POTENTIAL to pull together something really dynamite, but cut a few too many corners in the continuity department. Knowing that, I was interested to see just if and how he had grown as a director since his hiatus from the franchise (he’s directed other films since then of course). Let me tell you, as far as the man at the helm is concerned, he has improved MUCH. The storyline and characters, however, haven’t changed… and that’s bad.
Our opening sequence is a slow, MUCH washed out pan of a schoolyard soccer field. As a hooded figure kicks around a flat ball - in the background, a red jacketed woman walks around to the side of the building and lets herself in. She enters a dirty, dusty classroom and is met by another man, who is already waiting for her. This man is Kenichi Yamamoto, he and Matsubara (the woman in red) went to high school together, the very high school that they are now sitting and reminiscing in, reminiscing about and old classmate, a certain beautiful monster that neither of them can forget.
As I just pointed out, the direction and story flow together much better than the first effort. In fact, the plotline of this film runs directly into the first with very few questions. Shots are exquisitely thought out, well paced, and just as artistic as they are practical. You can really see Ataru’s progress from the first “Tomie” picture, no longer is the camera a confusing mess struggling to sync up with the dialogue. This time around, all the characters have been “formally” introduced (so to speak) so you don’t waste your time wondering who’s speaking and what about, the dusty aged look of the analog film has been replaced with a clean, crisp digital camera (not necessarily a good thing, but I’m getting ahead of myself), and the plot never has any jumps or skips that give the illusion of broken continuity.
The actors, as well are a solid in their concept of character, so much so that I almost forgot about the cast of the original film. Asami Imajuku as school girl Matsubara is excellent considering the surprising amount of emotion gunpowder required for the role. Throughout most of the movie she plays devil advocate, as Tomies only friend. The scene where Tomie finally meets her end at the hands of her ghoulish classmates is actually very poignant. “Have a laugh!” she shouts, “drink a toast! Are you glad this evil thing is finally dead!” insinuating that the only true evil is no further away than the nearest looking glass.
Much to my deep chagrin I also found myself enjoying Rio Matsumoto’s portrayal of Tomie. I say chagrin simply because I never thought anyone could replace Miho Kanno as Tomie in my eyes… but I think Rio has done just that. It’s funny, as I was waiting for “Beginning” to come out on video, I carefully studied the few pictures of Rio as Tomie that I could get off the internet and thought to myself that there’s absolutely NO WAY she could do better than queen Tomie Miho Kanno; I was embarrassingly wrong. Arguably the most attractive Tomie to date, she also has the best handle on the red witches persona. There’s a particularly riveting scene in which she and classmate Naoko get into a shouting match that ends in Tomie getting the last hit in on a bitch slapping fit is so spooky that it’s funny. “What’s that the bible says?” Tomie coos after her brazen victory “if you’re slapped you should… slap your opponent back?” no Tomie, that’s NOT what the bible says; but it IS what you say, and that’s good enough for me.
With all these glowing complements your probably thing to yourself “wait, isn’t there some kind of horrible web of conditional variables you haven’t yet warned us about?” Alas, you know me too well… cause’ there is. As you may remember, I said awhile back that this film is shot on non-film, that is to say, on a digital media. I’ve noticed a growing trend in Japanese films especially, that more and more production companies are favoring digital film over analog as a cheaper alternative. While this isn’t necessarily a bad substitution for low light and diffused light situations, it makes every brightly lit scene look washed out, and because digital film has a different frame rate, everything seems to have those, trippy, acid rock tracers whenever movement gets a little too quick. I realize digital film is easy and can be altered more effectively than analog, but in some films it’s just not appropriate. The digital film could be forgiven if the special effects were spectacular; but they are, quite frankly, the worst yet in the series. Somewhere in the middle of the movie when Tomie’s ear is severed by the masked photography club is profoundly ridiculous. The blood spray (which is the consistency of red ink and in no way has the constitution of actual blood) is comical and when the ear starts to skitter away it looks like those terrible “bug in a box” novelties you’d bring back from Encinata Mexico or that your guilt would force you to purchase from a Native American woman off a roadside knick knack stand. Given the deplorable state of the effects and the fact the production used digital film I almost assumed this film was suffering from some sort of fiduciary malfunction (say THAT three times fast), but I read somewhere that this movie had somewhere in the sum of 3,000,000 dollars (that’s right, AMERICAN dollars, which I think is actually worth LESS than yen, but don’t quote me) to spend and felt a little cheated. There is absolutely NO reason the special effects couldn’t have been better, especially with all the money they were saving with the digital media.
If you read my first “Tomie” review you probably caught the nitpicky bitching over not including this story arch as flashbacks in the original film. Face it, there’s not a great deal of meat on this particular “Tomie” bone, and with a run time of a scant 72 minutes, you really notice how much padding the production team injected into it. There is NOTHING here we haven’t seen in other “Tomie” installments. Scenes in which she tortures girls by having them eat live bugs, and men go mad over her are standard “Tomie” faire; overdone “Tomie” faire. And what is it with the men in these films? Do they not understand how it really feels to be mad with desire for someone? Mad with desire does not mean mad as a hatter of course, and more often than not the male actors seem to slip into some frightening Commedea D’larte character that can do no more than feverishly scream the name of their beloved, and weep riotously when she’s gone.
And that’s just BEFORE the ending. I know that the “Tomie” series is famous for bad endings (in fact, I would feel disappointed if a “Tomie” movie DIDN’T have a bad ending), but this one takes the cake; falling apart like the London Bridge, or the clasps on Grandma’s underpants. It is far too bad to mention here, but I WILL say that it’s much, much worse than even “Tomie: Rebirth”, which speaks volumes (I don’t care how much you liked it, you damn well that ending was terrible). I would like to pontificate a bit about the extras, but there’s nothing really to pontificate about. Two trailers, one for “Tomie: Revenge” (the story arch that I wanted to see come to the silver screen the MOST) and one for the movie you just watched… so hooray… for boobies.
For a film like “Tomie: Beginning” that’s such a mixed bag it’s hard to make a solid recommendation for it, but if you saw the original and just couldn’t get your imagination to fill in the gaps, you should probably see this one too. If your just discovering the “Tomie” franchise, however, this is no place to start. Even if you manage to choke down the bulk of this one, the ending will kill it for you and you’ll never watch another “Tomie” film again (honestly… that’s probably for the best anyways). If you are a FAN of the series you might find yourself enjoying this movie for reasons the casual moviegoer will never understand. And, hey, if you’ve gone this far there’s no reason you shouldn’t see this one, right? Am I right? Are you watching? Fine… don’t then.