The Tomie Films
Tomie: Another Face (1999)
Tomie: Replay (2000)
Tomie: Rebirth (2001)
Tomie: Final Chapter (2002)
Tomie: Beginning (2005)
Tomie: Revenge (2005)
In many respects, the nightmarish manga worlds of Ito Junji are thoroughly grounded in traditional Japanese intuitions regarding spiritual forces and demonic monsters (“obakemono“). (I provide more support for this opinion in my reviews of the other Ito Junji – inspired films, Uzumaki and Kakashi.) Thus the horrors which his manga so effectively tap into are in fact deeply ingrained fears. The malevolent forces and possibilities which emerge in his worlds often have parallels in traditional, regional ghost stories or kaidan. For this reason, his audiences find in his works a unique and unnerving presentation of japanese horror.
Tomie is the name given throughout the many Tomie films to the young woman seemingly born and reborn in various grotesque manner. The reason she requires so many rebirths is due to her terrifying demonic nature which those around her seem to quickly recognize. After tasting the power which is Tomie, they take things into their own hands and proceed to do away with her any way they can. Each time, however, no matter how thoroughly they might think they have completed the task, Tomie returns, now madder than ever, to exact her revenge. This can go on and on and on, for at least five movies. (!)
The title Tomie: The Final Chapter – Forbidden Fruit clearly intends to communicate to potential audiences the following three things:
(1) Tomie is back
(2) This is the last time Tomie is back
(3) She’s back for some hot lesbian action. (!)
Now reading this title from an purely objective, scientific frame of mind, as I of course did as I grabbed it off the video shelf giggling, should cause one to wonder why a movie which can honestly use “Tomie” and “The Final Chapter” in its title needs to also include “Forbidden Fruit”. Indeed the movie art and trailers all emphasize the latter “forbidden fruit” thing so strongly that it is clearly assumed to be the movie’s strongest selling point. Perhaps this sensationalist publicity approach is forgiveable, if not simply understandable, in light of the less-than-stellar impressions made by some of the previous Tomie films (and here Tomie: Replay comes strongly to mind). Perhaps Japanese audiences really would not have otherwise gone to see another Tomie film based on their prior experiences with Tomie sequels unless enticed by a little “forbidden fruit”.
Not that I should complain about the appearance of a young, demonic lesbian in a horror film (or the nightly news for that matter). I guess this issue comes so prominently to the fore in this review because (A) I thought this was a very good depiction of the Tomie horror, and (B) there is absolutely NO forbidden fruit here, not even a tangerine illegally smuggled through Narita airport security!
Unlike some of the previous Tomie movies which portrayed slightly older, much prettier characters living in a more modern, youth-independent world, Tomie: The Final Chapter brings us back to the much more terrifying, traditional world created in Ito Junji’s manga. We are brought back, not only to a rural and somewhat bleak environment, but also immersed in the nearly prepubescent world of our socially ostracized main character, Tomie (no, not the Tomie). By removing teen angst and quaffed hair from the equation, director Nakahara allows us to experience some of the original intuitional fears developed by Ito. Yes, (the) Tomie appears as a teenage girl, but in Ito’s original vision she is primarily a overwhelmingly terrifying obakemono.
For example, the majority of the time throughout Tomie: Final Chapter, Tomie appears in grotesque mutated forms. Thus the Tomie we persistently see IS undeniably a monster. Compare this (if you dare) to the presentation of Tomie in Tomie: Replay where her most mutated appearance consists of overly thick mascara, slightly smeared white lingerie, and a bad hair day. (Okay, I exaggerate a little, since she does have to play the requisite “head” scene.) My point is the horror of Tomie is NOT that she is a sexy 18 year old girl in borrowed lingerie gone bad. She is supposed to be obakemono dammit! And the Tomie in Final Chapter is indeed purely obakemono from her larva-like stage (which undoubtedly looked like a large delicacy to this movie’s pygmy audiences) to her multi-headed mutations, straight out of Ito’s manga drawings.
All that to say, Nakahara’s Tomie: Final Chapter does an excellent job of shedding all of the seemingly required contemporary poseur elements and brings us all back into the rural, traditional, bleak world where Ito Junji beckons us. And the effect is impressive and refreshing.
Following her mother’s death 10 years prior, Tomie Hashimoto (Miyazaki Aoi) continues to pay respects daily to her at the small butsudan (buddhist altar) in their home. Along with her father, Kazuhiko (Kunimura Jun) they have continued onward despite her mother’s absence. The loss of her mother at such an early age has obviously caused Tomie to turn inward, making her the constant victim of meaner girls’ control. She knows she is being taken advantage of but does not have the voice or heart to speak up. Neither does she have any friend with which to laugh or confide in, until Tomie (Ando Nozomi) abruptly enters her life.
As (Tomie) Hashimoto soon comments to herself, despite their same name, these two Tomie’s are worlds apart in their approach to life. The persona of the introverted, isolated (Tomie) Hashimoto, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and having zero social life is nearly the antithesis of (the) Tomie who dresses boldly, speaks forthrightly, and holds nothing back. And yet Tomie has a clear interest in (Tomie) Hashimoto and aggressively befriends her, inviting herself into her home and into her world.
One sub-theme here seems to be that (Tomie) Hashimoto is aspiring to be a short story novelist as a means of expressing herself despite social isolation. Her “novel”, which no one has ever read except Tomie, involves a dramatic love story involving passion, murder, and cannibalism. Tomie takes it upon herself to expose Hashimoto to more of the world so that she might write more deeply. Regarding passion, Tomie surprises Hashimoto with a quick kiss on the lips (undoubtedly very slow-mo in the trailers) and the later request that Hashimoto lick and kiss her finger. (Could this possibly be the “forbidden fruit” they were promising us? Stay tuned!) Regarding murder, well, we can talk about that later. Regarding cannibalism, Tomie repeatedly assures Hashimoto that she will teach her the taste of human flesh. And then that moment comes. Asking Hashimoto to close her eyes and open her mouth, Tomie drops into Hashimoto’s mouth only the smallest of pieces. “What does it taste like? This is what human flesh tastes like.”
What did Tomie give to Hashimoto as an example of the taste of human flesh? Any guesses? A pomegranate seed. (CREEPY!) Do you know what the pomegranate is mythologically and traditionally perceived to be? Yes, thats right! The forbidden fruit. (Just ask your local grocer if he has any contraband for sale and see what he comes up with.)
The friendship between Tomie and Tomie deepens to the point of producing a wedge between (Tomie) Hashimoto and her father Kazuhiko. Unfortunately, the wedge goes even deeper once Tomie confronts Kazuhiko and demonstrates that she is the same Tomie he loved so deeply 25 years ago as a high school student. She scoffs at the fact that Kazuhiko has nurtured his passing wife’s butsudan for the past 10 years, but did absolutely nothing following her own (Tomie’s) young, untimely death (the circumstances of which we are not privy to, but people familiar with “Tomie” certainly understand how such things can happen). You see, due to Kazuhiko’s inability to get (the 25 year ago) Tomie out of his head, he named his own daughter “Tomie”, despite being happily married to another woman. Now Tomie has come to see if the old flame is still kindled. Tomie’s notorious pull on male testosterone quickly emerges when she suggests that Kazuhiko return to the “good ole days” with her. This, of course, requires that he kill his daughter Tomie.
The relation between (a) Tomie and Tomie, (b) Tomie and Kazuhiko, and (c) Tomie and Kazuhiko (is this beginning to feel like algebra?) creates a very palpable tension whose outcome is not immediately intuitable by viewers. In fact, you will be brought down to the very last moments of the movie before you are told whose allegiance to whom has taken priority.
I personally enjoyed this movie. There’s a point where “originality well done” is a refreshing breeze. I realize “Tomie 5” is not the best place to start developing one’s original perspective, but perhaps this is why Tomie: Final Chapter seemed rather impressive.