omie" is based on a Japanese manga by
popular artist Ito Junji, who was also responsible for the material that
inspired the films "Kakashi" and "Uzumaki".
For those unfamiliar with Junji's work, the film may at first glance
appear to be no more than an early entry in the neverending cycle of Asian
ghost stories centering on a girl with long dark hair. However,
"Tomie", both as a film and a character, is a far more
complicated creature, being a demonic embodiment of the artist's
self-confessed fear of women, an unkillable monster who enslaves men and
drives them to insanity and murder.
This is actually the first film
in a series (the current count is 4), and being the original is the one on
which Junji had the most influence, both in terms of its feel and in
picking the lead actress to play the titular girl. Although this
inevitably means that the film will probably mean more to fans of the
manga, it still has plenty to offer the casual viewer. "Tomie"
is definitely a superior slice of Japanese horror, and one that benefits
from spending a large amount of its running time exploring both its human
and inhuman characters, creating a fascinating mythos that gives the film
a surreal, almost dreamlike atmosphere.
The plot begins by introducing us to Izumiasawa
Tsukiko (Nakamura Mani, star of "Tokyo Trash Baby"), a student
who is being put through hypnotherapy in an attempt to clear up a case of
amnesia. It seems that the poor girl can't remember anything as a result
of some kind of dreadful accident, save a few bloody visions of a headless
corpse. In reality, it turns out that Tsukiko is blocking out the murder
of her best friend Tomie (Miho Kanno, who was also in Kitano's
"Dolls") at the hands of her old boyfriend, who has since
As Tsukiko gradually comes to realize the truth, a
detective named Harada (Tomorowo Taguchi, a regular in the films of
Takashi Miike) is investigating the case, and discovers that Tomie appears
to have been murdered several times before. Meanwhile, Tomie herself
reappears, insinuating herself into Tsukiko's life, seemingly intent on
destroying everything the other woman has, including claiming Tsukiko's
new boyfriend for her own dreadful purposes.
Although the above synopsis may seem a little
revealing, don't worry. It is made clear from the very start that Tomie is
some kind of supernatural creature, given that our introduction to her is
as a living, growing severed head that a strange young man keeps in a bag
and feeds cockroaches. Although this does dispel some of the mystery, it
quite nicely places the film in the realm of the weird, and indicates
immediately to the viewer that strange things are more than likely to
In any case, the film is concerned not so much with
what Tomie is, as with what she does, and more importantly, her
relationship with Tsukiko. Their bond, and the ways in which Tomie
gradually takes over Tsukiko's life, grow more disturbing as the film
progresses. It's fascinating and provides the narrative with far more
drive than the detective's investigation. Although we are well aware that
Tomie is some kind of demon, our awakening to her motivations and spiteful
desires keep our interest and make her a far more engaging villainess than
one-dimensional ghosts such as Sadako from "Ringu".
Having said this, although the film is engrossing, it
suffers from having a very slow pace. Director Ataru Oikawa is very
capable at generating an off-kilter atmosphere and in escalating the
overall tension, but shies away from throwing in many action scenes.
Although the film does feature a few scares, a couple of moments of
inspired grotesquery, and some bloody murders (mostly repeated killings of
Tomie herself), not a great deal actually happens, and as such the pace
does drag at times. Oikawa seems to be mainly concerned with establishing
mood and character, and whilst this does give the film a solid grounding
to build upon, it never really goes anywhere. This is a shame as,
fascinating as the character of Tomie is, it would definitely have been
nice to see her in a little more action.
"Tomie" is an above average Japanese horror
film that, though a little slow at times, introduces the viewer to one of
the more interesting and twisted anti-heroes of the genre. Apart from a
few gruesome scenes, this is effectively a demonic character study more
than anything else, and whilst it generally succeeds in this aim and will
definitely entertain most fans of Asian horror, it leaves the viewer
wanting more. This, I guess, is where the sequels come in.