Friday, August 10, 2012

'Tomie' Double-Feature

As I've previously mentioned, I'm a big fan of Junji Ito's "Tomie" horror comic book series. I keep watching the film adaptations of it when I come across others in the long-running series, even if it's a little like Charlie Brown and Lucy's football. More often than not, these films have been disappointments, and I've yet to see one that captured the feel of Ito's original work completely. (But I've yet to see them all... so there's still hope.)

Prevkously, I've reviewed four of the "Tomie" films here on Terror Titans. Today, I'm offering up two more--the very first in the series (which is so awful I originally posted the review to Movies You [Die Before You] See) and the prequel that was helmed by the same director six years later.

Tomie (1999)
Starring: Yoriko Douguchi, Miho Kanno, and Mami Nakamura
Director: Ataru Oikawa
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Junji Ito created one of the few truly scary comic book series I've read--"Uzemaki." His other famous series Tomie is almost as creepy, although you'd never know it from this astoundingly boring movie adaptation.

"Tomie" is the tale of a teen girl who is the center of violent love triangles where everyone involved ends up dead, including her. And, yes, it's plural, because Tomie is so evil that even death cannot stop her--her body always regrows, even from dismemberment, into an exact replica of when she was at her most beautiful... and then she goes looking for more victims to seduce and lead to destruction.

"Tomie" is an awful movie in every sense of the word. It's slow-moving; it fails to take advantage of nearly everything that was truly creepy in the original source material, so it starts boring and it stays there; is filled with drab characters having inane conversations; spends too much time with characters talking about how horrific things are instead of showing the viewer the horror; and has gore and special effects so awful that Ed Wood is embarrassed on the filmmakers' behalf. Finally, the film seems to assume that the viewer is familiar with the Ito comics series, which is an unforgivable sin in my opinion.

The only reason I suffered through it until the end was because I wanted to review it for here and because I kept thinking it HAD to get better.

"Tomie" would have been a One Star movie, except the actors seem to be doing as good a job as can be expected with the awful script they're working with. I still recommend that you avoid this one.

There are at least six other Tomie movies that have been made since the release of this one, and this is one series where the films get better as they go. Sort of... the series has been hit-and-miss.

Tomie: Beginning (2005)
Starring: Rio Matsumoto, Asami Imajuku, and Kenji Mazu
Director: Ataru Oikawa
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A transfer student (Matsumoto) brings obsession, murder, and madness to a Japanese high school. Only Reiko (Imajuku) stands unaffected by the horror... or does she?

"Tomie: Beginning" is a little misnamed, at least it was for me. It raised expectations that it doesn't deliver on--this isn't the beginning of Tomie and she remains as mysterious and alien at the end of the film as she is at its beginning--but rather a prequel to the very first "Tomie" film, by the director who made that first film, and he was more on the mark with this outing.

"Tomie: The Beginning" has its title not just because it's a prequel--that reveals the circumstances of how Tomie's head came to be in that grocery bag at the beginning of the first film--but also because it's based largely on Junji Ito's first "Tomie" short story. By staying close to Ito's work, Oikawa managed to correct the error of his first outing where he completely failed to capture the ever-growing oppressive mood and expanding darkness and circle of madness that ripples outward from where-ever Tomie appears. Also unlike the first movie, Oikawa also manages to stage some absolutely creepy scenes, such as the one where the entire homeroom class confronts Tomie in the woods with predictable results, and one where Reiko confronts a second Tomie that has grown from bandages soaked with Tomie's blood. There's also a very nice scene that effectively transmits the mood of Tomie at the center of her maelstrom of madness, with Reiko as the only island of sanity remaining--that, together with the scenes in the woods, are the most impressive moments in the film, as well as some of the most effective translations of Ito's graphic stories into motion pictures.

Unfortunately, Oikawa hewed a little too closely to Ito in this case. The main story, told in flashback, begins literally with the moment Tomie arrives in the classroom. The mounting chaos and horror and madness for the characters would have been more effectively conveyed and more impactful on the audience if a few minutes had been spent showing us how they were all typical teenagers leading typical lives. The in media res approach works for Ito's stories because we usually have a convincing narrator tell us that "we were normal kids" or we get to see glimpses of life without Tomie to contrast against life with her. Oikawa didn't give the audience any grounding in normalcy, and the movie is weaker for it.

I haven't said much about the actors in the film, because there isn't much to say. They all do fine jobs in their roles, with Rio Matsumoto providing one of the best Tomies yet. With this film, she is the sixth actress to play the part, continuing the tradition of a new Tomie in each film. (Even she is replaced for the seventh installment in the series, also written and directed by Ataru Oikawa and shot back-to-back with this one.)

If you like Junji Ito's "Tomie" comics, you will probably enjoy this film. If you're unfamiliar with the property, this might not be the best introduction to the Tomie series, despite its chronological placement. "Tomie: Replay" or "Tomie: Another Face" are far more friendly entry points to the uninitiated, in addition to sharing the honor with this one as being among the best in the series.

No comments:

Post a Comment