Man, did I EVER want to like this movie more. Tomie: Replay boasts a better score, more cohesive writing, smoother directing and higher production values – why, why, WHY was I so disappointed?? It seems that the team was so interested in overhauling the areas of the previous film that failed, that they unintentionally ignored the one place they never should have overlooked – the performances. Since the actors dragged along so much; the proceedings lacked real heart, as it were. I was surprised by how sterile everything felt and, had it been intentional, it might have been appreciated; but it clearly was not.
An 8 year old girl is rushed into the emergency room, the sound of clattering footsteps and squeaking wheels close behind. Doctors find her belly swollen; engorged and writhing (I apologize for the string of disgusting descriptive adjectives). A sonogram reveals not a baby, but a human skull. As hospital director Kenzo Morita attempts an emergency cesarean, he slips and cuts himself, becoming infected with the child’s blood. Finishing the incision, Morita finds himself face to face with the severed head of a beautiful girl. “Otashiwa… Tomie” she whispers. The next day; Kenzo Morita disappears, and his daughter Yumi is determined to find him. Later, Takeshi (Masatoshi Matsuo) - a med student - is talking with his good friend and current patient Fumihito (Yosuke Kubozuka) about the rash of resignations filed by the hospital staff as of late. The two deduce that the hospital is cursed (and what isn’t in Japanese horror films?), a theory that becomes law when Takeshi is visited by our titular demon girl, who promptly takes her home.
Nice hook huh? Yeah, that’s about all it’s got goin’ for it. You see, it’s a trend amongst Tomie films to run as slow as molasses in January, and Replay is no exception. In many cases, I won’t hold slow pacing as a strike against a film, in fact, many Japanese films follow that mark, but if that’s your game plan you need to make sure your actors are strong enough to carry it. In this case, not a SINGLE character has the chops to pull it off.
Watching the actors in Replay is like being treated to a bowl of boiled cabbage – flat, flavorless, and offensively pungent. In no place is this more apparent than Mai Hosho’s Tomie. She is arguably the WORST portrayer of Tomie I have ever seen (with the possible exception of Tomie: Another Face, but you don’t have to watch that). Hosho does a decent job at being a bitchy teenage girl (of course, she is in fact a bitchy teenage actress), but she tries too hard to be sympathetic. The contradiction here is that the film tries hard to show Tomie as a monster; so it’s an essential betrayal to the character that the film has prepared for her. She seems to suffer from what I like to call, NUS: Newly Undead Syndrome. The subject may have some idea of their own immortality, but their human emotions still get in the way. Tomie’s origin, on the other hand, is traced back to the Meiji era (which began about 1870), so she’s got about a thousand years of living under her belt, and has no qualms about her attitude toward human kind. Truth be told, Tomie is akin to the old Egyptian vampires in that way; sure in her superiority and unabashed in her behavior. And while sympathy is a good manipulative weapon, she has no reason to behave like this in front of women.
Sympathetic women bring me to my next gripe; our heroine and hero. Yumi and Fumihito are played by the vaguely horse faced Sakaya Yamaguchi, and the vaguely monkey faced Yosuke Kubozuka respectively (did someone liberate a zoo on set?), and were absolutely lifeless as leads. This is not to say they’re unbelievable, I DO agree there are people that are that boring in life, but it doesn’t count as entertainment. Yamaguchi plays up mousiness to the Nth degree, an unfortunate side effect being viewer narcolepsy. Kubozuka’s corpse like Fumihito hardly helps her either, giving her very little to play off of and NOTHING to work with. Indeed, conciseness may be too much to hold on to at this point.
Oh, and I’m not done yet.
ANY other type of performance would have been better than the one given by Masatoshi Matsuo as Takeshi. Tomie must have the Midas touch of cocaine; as he swings from boring to caricature almost instantaneously (as seen with Fumihito later on). If I wanted to watch a blathering idiot, I’d visit my grandma in the old folk’s home… if she weren’t dead. A scene in which he’s screaming “bakimono!” (read: monster) over and over while watching Tomie hang from the ceiling with her spidey powers (that’s right kids, Tomie has Krazy Kool [TM] powers now!) is pretty hilarious. Come to think of it, I couldn’t help but take his whole performance as a joke.
For the first time, this cavalcade of crap performances isn’t the writer’s fault. In fact, it stands as a well written adaptation of the manga, and a coherent script that explains the terrible ending of the last film. Tomie’s viral sensibilities are explored here, so if the last one had you scratching your head, Replay might relive some of that psoriasis. The direction complements it with a wonderful smooth, clean crispness. My only complaint is the sometimes cryptic events that unfold, and the unnatural speed at which it all happens. First, it takes months for a hospital to experience a crippling drop in staff, go through an inspection and close – not days. Second, I highly doubt Takeshi carried Tomie all the way home on his BACK without noticing she was missing her ENTIRE LEFT ARM!! Third, we don’t need any exposition involving Tomie sharing dialogue with her own severed head; it’s just confusing and icky.
It might be prudent at this point to mention the only member of the cast to rise to meet her part; Kumija Kim as Yumi’s mother. She slipped into the role with such grace and sweetness that I found myself wanting to see more of her. The chemistry between her and Yamaguchi seemed genuine too, like they were really mother and daughter. A scene over breakfast where they simultaneously pick up a slice of omelet with their chopsticks without so much as a glance up at one another is VERY cute.
Adness America’s translation from film to DVD is once again flawless – presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby 5.1 Digital sound (naturally) but I gave a 1 skull rating for otherwise shit extras, and let me tell you why. It comes packaged with trailers for the Tomie series (a standard, so I’ll stop mentioning it) and a still gallery of Juni Ito’s original Tomie art – and I LOVE me some original art.
Tomie: Replay is a sad, unfortunate shade of a movie, paled by its bleak performances and sterile feel. Had this one problem been corrected it might have panned out better than even Tomie: Rebirth, but because it suffered so much in that way I can’t in good conscience give it more than 3 skulls. That’s a shame, considering I gave the original only 2 skulls, and it’s the superior film (only because it was so well acted). Replay DOES provide some solid Tomie mythos though, and it sets you up so you don’t have to think when you watch Tomie: Rebirth. In the end, isn’t that what a good sequel should do? I guess…