Friday, March 19, 2010

Tomie returns again and again and again

Tomie: Another Face (1999)
Starring: Runa Nagai
Director: ToshirĂ´ Inomata
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

One of the greatest talents to ever work in horror comics is Japan's Junji Ito. His tales never fail to send a chill down a reader's spine, and his style is one that even those who "hate" manga will be able to appreciate. (If you're a horror fan and you've never experienced Ito's work, go immediately to by clicking here and order one or more of his books. You're missing out of pure horror genius.)

Ito's most famous creation is that of Tomie, a mysterious teenaged temptress who makes men and boys fall in love with her and drives them insane so they eventually murder her and destroy themselves. Once the carnage is over and before the horror has subsided, Tomie rises from the dead to start the cycle all over again. It doesn't matter how efficiently her body is disposed of... Tomie ALWAYS comes back.

Ito's comic has been adapted into nine different movies as of this writing and they vary greatly in quality.

The first "Tomie" movie (review here) was so awful and boring that it nearly put me off any others in the series. However, my love of the "manga" tales led me to give what I believed to be the next installment--"Tomie: Replay" (review here)--a try. I'm glad I did, because it's a far superior movie, and it calls attention to a fascinating aspect of the monster that is Tomie that even Ito's original tales did not bring into such clear focus.

However, I recently discovered that there was a made-for-TV (or possibly direct-to-video) effort released shortly after the first theatrical "Tomie" film, "Tomie: Another Face". When I further learned it was an anthology film, it became even more of a must-see for me, as I love that format.

The first tale is what you'd call a "standard Tomie story". It's set in a high school setting, and she's one side of a love triangle with the story's narrator... who has lost her boyfriend to Tomie. Tomie's already dead when the story starts, but she returns to prevent the narrator and her boyfriend from reuniting. This, in turn, leads to some drastic high school romance drama that would give even Romeo and Juliet pause. It's a somewhat dull story, but it's got a punchy ending that more than makes up for its overall tepidness.

In the second tale, a professional photographer, who has spent his professional life trying to capture the image of a mysterious woman he developed a crush on while in school, encounters a young girl who looks just like her. Her name turns out to be Tomie and she agrees to model for him so long as he makes her look beautiful in the pictures. Needless to say, things end badly for the shutter-bug. The creep factor is far higher throughout this segment of the film, and, once again, we're given great ending. Unfortunately, despite being built around an element that's appeared in several Ito stories--photos always reveal Tomie's unnatural nature, as well as the fact that her beauty is barely skin deep--this tale presents her in the role of a tart from the beginning. Tomie just isn't Tomie when she's got make-up caked on and is dancing for dollars in dive bars.

In the third tale, we find another Tomie standard set-up... a nebbish loser is wrapped around her finger, and she uses him as the means to kill someone who is immune to her charms or otherwise onto her evil nature. In this case, the target of her wrath is a former coroner who witnessed one of her many resurrections two years earlier and who has been researching and stalking her ever since. The climax to this third tale is one that Ito himself could have cooked up, and viewers will chuckles with mingle with Tomie's fading laughter as the credits being to role. (And that's not a spoiler.... Come on, you know that no one will ever truly destroy Tomie!)

"Tomie: Another Face" is a solid low-budget horror film. While the cinematography is a bit weak and the shot-on-video feel is flat and all-pervasive, it's got a good atmospheric soundtrack and the cast all give a good accounting of themselves. The choice of the actress to play Tomie (Luna Nagai this time out) is a good choice, better than the actress who played Tomie in the original film, who looked entirely too old. (Luna Nagai may be the best actress I've seen as Tomie yet... she is great at switching between being a simpering girlie-girl and a bitch in an instant. For some reason, each Tomie film seems to have a different actress in the part. Maybe they are used as vehicles for the Japanenese Lindsey Lohan's of the Moment when they are made?)

The biggest drawback of the film is that while it stays true to the themes and overall feel of Ito's Tomie stories--something that it enhanced by the anthology format--at no time does "Another Face" manage to match Ito's work in creepiness factor. They come close at a couple of points, but the filmmakers never quite manage to equal their source material. While this may be partly due to the obvious budgetary constraints it was made under, it is also the fault of the director and cinematographer. Better lighting and tighter editing could have gone a long way to making the film far creepier.

"Tomie: Another Face" is far better than the first film in the series, but you should watch "Tomie: Replay" before you bother with this film. (Or, even better, read some of Ito's original Tomie short stories. (Unfortunately, as of this writing, all English-language editions of them are out of print. Actually, even the DVD is out of print as of this writing. But, Tomie always returns....)

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