“Tomie: Forbidden Fruit” is the fourth in the franchise based on the Japanese manga by popular horror artist Ito Junji, whose unique talent also produced the inspirations for the films “Uzumaki” and “Kakashi”. “Forbidden Fruit” is linked to its predecessors only through the titular demoness, and so unfamiliar viewers who have a taste for half-hearted horror need not fear having missed any vital character or plot developments by not having seen the previous 3 films in the series. Though ostensibly stand-alone tales, the plots of all four films are virtually identical: Tomie, an undying, spiteful demon who takes the form of a beautiful young girl, appears and insinuates herself into the life of another girl, before wrecking her victim’s relationships and driving those around her to madness and murder.
In “Forbidden Fruit”, more so than in previous films, there is far more time spent following Tomie’s generally dull and melodramatic attempts to take over her victim’s life rather than on the horrific consequences of her schemes. As a result, the film moves far too slowly and whilst not particularly bad, is ultimately too tame and unambitious to offer anything more than middling entertainment, even for genre fans or franchise completists. This is a real shame, as Tomie herself is an imaginative, interesting creation which has never really been given a film that did her considerable potential justice.
The plot begins in familiar style, as we are introduced to shy school girl Tomie Hashitmoto (Aoi Miyazaki, recently in “Loved Gun”), an artistic soul who is bullied by her brutish classmates and lives alone with her down-trodden father Kazuhiko (played by prolific actor Jun Kunimura, whom fans of Takashi Miike will recognize from “Ichi the Killer” and “Audition”). Into their quiet lives comes the evil Tomie, who immediately befriends her wretched namesake, beginning an apparently intense relationship which seems to verge on obsession. However, at the same time, Tomie sets upon seducing Kazuhiko, claiming to be a girl he loved many years ago, and who he thinks he had seen murdered. The demon uses the father’s growing desire to gradually ruin his poor daughter’s life; things reach a climax when the demon offers the father an awful, yet tempting bargain, initiating a downward spiral of insanity and bloodshed.
This is basically the same plot used in the previous films, with the only twist this time being the focus on the relationship between a father and daughter rather than a couple. To director Shun Nakahara’s credit, he does flesh out this relationship very well, and the film is given a very fragile, human heart in the interactions between Tomie and her father. As the demon lurks around causing lackluster mayhem, the way father and daughter gradually opens up and learns to trust each other is genuinely touching, and gives the horrific events of the film a realistic backdrop, as well as having more impact than they would otherwise have had.
The relationship between the two girls is similarly well handled and believable, mainly due to the excellent performances by the female leads, especially from Nozomi Ando (“Sakuya, Slayer of Demons”) as the monstrous Tomie. She fills out the villainess role perfectly, giving subtle hints of her voraciously predatory nature without every slipping into standard wisecracks or high camp. Although not quite as memorable as Miho Kanno in the original “Tomie”, Ando brings the complex and interesting character to life, and almost manages to salvage the film from complete mediocrity.
Unfortunately, although undeniably well done and laudable for its characterization, Nakahara allows these elements to dominate the film, leaving little room for anything else. Given that this is supposed to be a horror film, this is an unforgivable crime, and one which nearly sinks the proceedings, frustrating and boring viewers as they wait for something to happen. Although there are a few effectively creepy moments, mostly involving Tomie’s bizarre regenerative properties (which at times leave her as a living severed head, carried around in a baby carriage), they are simply not often enough to generate any feelings of excitement or real tension. Halfway into the film, the viewer is all too aware that very little is likely to happen, no matter how many ominous touches the director throws in, and so there is nothing to truly engage the attention.
As a result, “Tomie: Forbidden Fruit” comes across as being more of a teen-friendly angst film than anything else, with only a few, almost begrudging, nods towards the horror genre. Perhaps if there were more to the plot than what amounts to fairly aimless character development, then the film would have been more interesting and could have worked as a dark slice of domestic drama. As it stands, even fans of the franchise will be disappointed by what is ultimately a weak climax to a series which has never lived up to the possibilities offered by its fascinating central character.
Shun Nakahara (director) / Yoshinobu Fujioka (screenplay), Junji Ito (comic)
CAST: Nozomi Ando …. Tomie
Aoi Miyazaki …. Tomie Hashimoto
Jun Kunimura …. Kazuhiko Hashimoto
Yuka Fujimoto …. Kyoko